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Title: With Wellington in Spain - A Story of the Peninsula
Author: Brereton, F. S. (Frederick Sadleir), 1872-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "With Wellington in Spain - A Story of the Peninsula" ***

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With Wellington in Spain



BY CAPTAIN BRERETON


    =Kidnapped by Moors=: A Story of Morocco. 6_s._
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        3_s._ 6_d._
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LONDON: BLACKIE & SON, LTD., 50 OLD BAILEY, E.C.


[Illustration: TOM IS SUMMONED BY WELLINGTON]



                     With Wellington
                        in Spain

                A Story of the Peninsula


                           BY
                 CAPTAIN F. S. BRERETON

    Author of "The Great Airship," "Kidnapped by Moors,"
    "A Boy of the Dominion," "The Hero of Panama," &c.


             _ILLUSTRATED BY W. RAINEY, R.I._


                 BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
                LONDON GLASGOW AND BOMBAY
                          1914



Contents


     CHAP.                                   Page

        I. SEPTIMUS JOHN CLIFFORD & SON         9

       II. UNDERHAND CONDUCT                   25

      III. ABOARD A BRITISH FRIGATE            46

       IV. A NAVAL ENCOUNTER                   67

        V. PRISONERS                           87

       VI. NAPOLEON THE AMBITIOUS             105

      VII. A TIGHT CORNER                     124

     VIII. TOM CHANGES QUARTERS               143

       IX. HARD PRESSED                       162

        X. THE GREAT GENERAL                  185

       XI. ON ACTIVE SERVICE                  202

      XII. GUARDING THE BY-WAYS               222

     XIII. CIUDAD RODRIGO                     240

      XIV. ONE OF THE FORLORN HOPE            263

       XV. ROUND ABOUT BADAJOZ                281

      XVI. THE BATTLE OF SALAMANCA            302

     XVII. A CLUE AT LAST                     321

    XVIII. THE CONSPIRATORS' DEN              337

      XIX. TOM THINKS FURIOUSLY               354

       XX. A BRILLIANT CAPTURE                371



Illustrations


                                                            Page

    TOM IS SUMMONED BY WELLINGTON        _Frontispiece_      300

    "CRASH! WENT THE BROADSIDE"                               72

    THE PEASANTS BREAK IN THE CHURCH DOORS                   112

    "GRIPPING ONE OF THE LADDERS DRAGGED IT ASIDE WITH
    ALL HIS FORCE"                                           169

    "TO HIS AMAZEMENT THE MAN CLUTCHED HIM BY THE HAND"      225

    TOM ESCAPES FROM CIUDAD RODRIGO                          258

    A CLEVER DISGUISE                                        324

    THE FAT MAN THREATENS TOM                                345



WITH WELLINGTON IN SPAIN



CHAPTER I

Septimus John Clifford & Son


No cooler spot could be imagined on the hottest midsummer day than
the picturesque forecourt of the premises occupied by Septimus John
Clifford & Son, wine merchants, importers and exporters.

Behind the forecourt, crowding the latter closely towards the edge of
the River Thames, some few hundred yards below the point where the
stream swept and swirled through the arches of the bridge, stretched
an irregular block of buildings, that portion farthest from the court
presenting a somewhat severe frontage to the river, its many floors,
its narrow windows, and its winches and hoists dangling outside
serving to show that it was there that Septimus John Clifford & Son
stored their goods from oversea. Huge doors leading by wide, shallow
steps to the basement hinted that it was through these easy portals
that the wines of France, of Spain, and of Portugal found access to
the vast vaults stretching away behind the muddy bank of the river.

The forecourt and its immediate background bore a very different
appearance, for the garden, encompassed by moss-grown walls, was
ablaze with flowers, while one huge mulberry tree reared its foliage
before the main entrance of the building, its leaves rustling against
the curious old dormer windows and strangely shaped balconies
which adorned the front. Beneath the grateful shade cast by that
mulberry tree lay Septimus John Clifford himself, at full length
in a capacious basketwork chair, oblivious of his surroundings,
careless even of the persistent flies that hovered about the gaudy
silk handkerchief with which he had covered his head. Mr. Septimus
was asleep. Clerks in the busy office within the huge bay window, not
five yards from him, turned the leaves of musty ledgers with pathetic
care lest they should awake the ruler of this establishment. The
office boy, an urchin with round, rosy cheeks, swelled to the point
of bursting, gathered up his feet upon the staves of his chair when
the head clerk admonished him for shuffling them, and cast an anxious
eye out through the wide-open window. Marlow, the clerk nearest to
that sleeping form, almost held his breath; for he was apt to grunt
and expand his lungs with a hiss that was exasperating.

"One hour, I think," observed Huggins, a white-haired clerk, who
seemed to be the head of the office, consulting a silver watch which
was as large as a good-sized turnip. "One hour precisely, I make it."

"And four minutes," ventured his assistant, a thin, lanky man,
white-haired like his comrade. "It is time to wake him."

"Yes, now; he would not forgive delay."

Huggins rose silently from the high stool on which he was seated and
crossed to the door on tiptoe. He descended the picturesque steps
leading from the main entrance to the place with as much care as
he would have employed had he been stepping over hot bricks, and
advanced to the side of his master, as if determined to leave him
asleep till the very last possible moment. For that was the spirit
which pervaded the establishment of Septimus John Clifford & Son. A
good master was served by loyal and grateful clerks, of whom none
were more loyal and thoughtful than Huggins, the stout, clean-shaven,
white-haired man who had spent thirty years of his peaceful life in
the office.

"Hem! Three o'clock," said Huggins, coming to a standstill and
casting his eyes first at the sleeping form of his master, then at
the waving foliage of the mulberry tree, and later out across the
river to the southern shore, then almost devoid of houses. For we
do not speak of London in this year of grace 1913, but of London in
1810, a city of huge proportions even then, but small and puny when
compared with the mass of buildings which now stretch far and wide.
Smoke stacks and chimneys belching forth huge billows of dark cloud
were not then such a feature of the giant capital. Green fields
and waving trees came close up to the opposite bank of the Thames,
while the few houses there were, the open country, and the stretch
of shimmering water, with its quaint river craft, made a picture
that was fascinating. From the shade and shelter of the forecourt
the view was perfectly enchanting, and for a little while held all
Huggins's attention, even though he looked out upon it every day of
his life. Then he hemmed again, and gently touched the sleeve of the
sleeper. Mr. Septimus stirred, then, hearing a cough beside him, sat
up briskly, drew the handkerchief from his head, and, folding it with
care, placed it in his pocket.

"Three o'clock, sir," said Huggins.

"No more?" asked Mr. Septimus.

"Five minutes past."

"Four," declared Mr. Septimus, consulting his own watch--one, too, of
vast proportions. "The post has come?"

Huggins nodded.

"From Spain?"

"There are four letters."

"And from Portugal?" asked Mr. Septimus eagerly.

"One only."

"Drat the war!" cried Mr. Septimus, sitting forward with energy.
"First this Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, disturbs all trade by
pouring his soldiers into the Peninsula, and then he keeps up the
disturbance by refusing to agree that he's beaten. He's beaten, ain't
he, Huggins?"

"If not quite, then nearly, sir," came the respectful answer. "But
they say that Wellington has cleared Portugal of the French. Stocks
of wines are coming through more freely."

The reminder seemed to hearten the master of this establishment;
his face assumed a cheerful expression. Not that it had appeared
seamed with care before, for Septimus was the personification of good
humour. He was a short, stout little man, bald headed and slightly
bandy legged. Round, inquisitive goggles sat on a broad nose that
spoke of good temper. A white muffler and stock, together with an
even whiter waistcoat, covered a frame which may be described as
decidedly ample, while shapely legs--shapely even though prone
to bandiness--were clad in snuff-coloured overalls, which fitted
like the proverbial glove, and set off a figure that was decidedly
attractive and gentlemanly.

He stretched out a hand and took the letters which his clerk had
brought for him. Then, selecting the one from Portugal, he opened it
with the blade of his penknife.

"From Dom Juan de Esteros," he said, extracting the sheet within the
envelope. "Ha! That is good news. The tide of war turns to Spain, and
wines are accumulating at Oporto. That is good, Huggins. Our clients
will be glad to hear that we can soon replenish their cellars.
Business will look up."

Huggins nodded, while his sallow features reddened a trifle; for
what concerned the house of Septimus John Clifford & Son concerned
him, not from the pecuniary point of view, seeing that he was paid a
steady salary whether business were good or bad, but because of his
sympathetic interest in the firm.

"We can do with it, sir," he said. "Things have been a little slow
in the office. There has been little work after three o'clock. The
clerks have been inclined to become sleepy."

"And no wonder," responded Septimus, looking up with a laugh. "Like
master, like man, Huggins. Can't blame 'em for sleeping after dinner
if I do. It's a bad habit, Huggins, a bad habit. All the same, I
believe it helps one wonderfully. Couldn't get through these hot
days if it weren't for the forty winks I snatch. But let's see.
Dom Juan--ah! he thinks the time has come for us to have a direct
representative in Oporto. Talks of indifferent health caused by the
anxieties of the war. Asks us to send someone."

"Ahem! Yes, sir," came from Huggins suggestively.

"To send someone," repeated Septimus. "A representative, Huggins. Eh?"

"Master Tom," came promptly from the clerk. "And son, sir--Clifford &
Son."

He laid special emphasis on the last two words, causing Mr. Septimus
to look up at him and discover the old servant's face glowing. As for
the owner of this successful business of wine merchants, we can only
say that he, too, looked enthusiastic.

"And son--yes, Huggins," he said. "How long is it since there was a
son?"

"Seventeen years three months and two days, sir," was the answer.
"Master Tom's age exactly."

"To the minute almost," laughed Septimus. "He's the one; he shall
represent the firm at Oporto."

By the interest and attention these two gave to the affair one would
have imagined that it was an entirely novel subject of discussion,
whereas, to be precise, this quaint pair had long since settled
the matter. For the "& Son" had become a feature of the business.
Two centuries earlier Clifford & Son had first hung their trade
sign outside those same premises, only in those days the house was
exceedingly small and unpretentious. Still, there had been a son
in the business, and thereafter, as the years passed, a succession
of sons, while Septimus John had become, as it were, part of the
stock-in-trade of this old house which boasted of the "& Son" always
attached to it. However, in latter days, there had come a time when
that old boast had almost failed them, for Mr. Septimus had succeeded
his father at the age of thirty, exactly and precisely one day
after the birth of his own boy. It was this same infant, christened
Septimus John Esteros Thomas Clifford, who was now under discussion.

"You'll send him, of course, sir," exclaimed Huggins.

"Of course. He'd have gone two years ago if it hadn't been for the
war. Drat the war, Huggins!" cried Septimus peevishly. "It has upset
all my plans and ruined business. Here's Master Tom kicking his heels
about the place and attempting to learn Spanish and Portuguese,
when he should be in Oporto learning the languages simply because
he couldn't help doing so, and at the same time attending to the
business. I did that. I went out when I was sixteen, and came home
for good at thirty. The son in this firm has been wanting ever since,
for always the father has managed here in London, while the son has
worked the business in Oporto. Tom shall go, and quickly too; I'll
see him. What's that?"

Both heads were raised promptly, while Mr. Septimus and his clerk
remained in their respective attitudes listening intently. From the
room behind the wide bay window where the office staff worked there
came not so much as a sound. Doubtless the white-haired junior clerk
and his helpers still pored over their ledgers, while the fat office
boy still sat with his legs curled around the supports of his stool.
But from a room overhead there came the sound of strife. A girl's
voice was heard, then came that of some young fellow, piercing and
high pitched and querulous. The noise of a blow followed, a dull,
heavy sound, which gave one the impression that a fist had descended
on someone's jaw. A thud telling of a tumble came to the ears of the
listeners almost immediately afterwards.

Mr. Septimus rose to his feet with agility and gathered up his
letters. There was a severe look on his face as he made towards the
steps leading into the house.

"Those two quarrelling," he said over his shoulder.

"Then it isn't Master Tom's doing," declared Huggins, with decision.
"That Master José's always at him. He's sly, he is; he's jealous of
his cousin."

"Then it'll be a good thing when they're separated. Ah! There again!"
cried Mr. Septimus, as the sound of other blows came to his ears,
as well as a scream of rage. "I'll go to them; this conduct is
disgraceful!"

He bounded up the steps at a speed that would have surprised those
who did not know him; for, as we have explained, the head of the firm
of wine merchants was distinctly stout, and his appearance belied
all suggestion of activity. But Septimus could move quickly when he
liked, while his business hours were characterized by bustle. He
stepped hurriedly across the hall and went up the wide oak staircase
two steps at a time. He was panting just a little when he reached the
door of the apartment wherein the scuffle was taking place and threw
it wide open. And there he stood for a little time, breathing deeply,
regarding the people in the room with wide-open eyes, which seemed to
fill the whole area of his spectacles and take in everything.

"Stop this instantly!" he commanded, seeing two lads struggling
together in the far corner. "I have never seen anything more
disgraceful."

The scene before him might well have drawn such words from the lips
of the head of such a decorous firm as Septimus John Clifford & Son;
for the room was in confusion. A heavy desk, occupying the centre,
that would have been upset but for its weight, had been jerked out of
position and now stood at an angle. A chair lay on its back, while
an inkpot of large dimensions lay against the near wall with a wide
puddle of ink about it, and the panelled wall itself was splashed in
all directions with the same dark fluid. A young girl some sixteen
years of age gripped one side of the desk, and stood there watching
the contest with staring eyes that were decidedly frightened. Two
lads occupied the centre of the picture, and as Septimus entered
they were locked together in a firm embrace, each one endeavouring
to belabour the other. But at the voice of command they broke away,
one of them, a youth of medium height, promptly turning from his
antagonist toward the door. The movement was the signal for the other
to strike out swiftly, sending his fist crashing against the other's
head, and following the cowardly movement by a kick which cut the
feet of his opponent from beneath him, and brought the lad with a
thud to the floor.

"That was a coward's blow!" declared Septimus hotly, advancing into
the room; "the kick was contemptible. Stand away in that corner,
José. I will thrash you severely if you attempt another movement."

He closed the door quietly behind him, placed a seat at the desk so
that he could see all three within the room, then slowly wiped and
adjusted his glasses.

"Please explain," he began icily, when finally his glasses were
adjusted. "I left you here at two o'clock. You had work sufficient to
last you till the evening. What is the meaning of this disgraceful
interruption? You, Tom, answer."

He looked closely at each of the lads in turn, and then fixed his
eyes upon the one who had been struck in such a cowardly manner by
the other. In doing so Septimus Clifford looked upon the counterpart
of himself. For before him was the son who was of so much importance
to the house of Clifford, the son who was to represent the firm in
Oporto--the one, in fact, whom the reader will already have observed
was particularly favoured by Huggins. Tom was of middle height, as
we have remarked, well built and solidly put together. In spite of
his ruffled hair and his flushed face there was something undoubtedly
attractive about the young fellow, so much so that Septimus could not
fail but note it.

"Looks me square in the face and eye," he muttered beneath his
breath. "That's the way with the Cliffords. Knows he's probably in
for a licking, and yet don't funk it. He's ready to receive what he's
earned, and ain't going to lie to lessen the punishment. Well?" he
asked severely, for Septimus was not the one to show favour.

But Tom made no answer. He stood squarely facing his father, his
character clearly shown upon a face that was decidedly pleasing if
not exactly handsome.

"Well?" demanded Septimus again, more curtly if anything.

"Ask him, sir," came the reply, while Tom jerked his head at the lad
over in the far corner where Septimus had ordered him.

"Then you," exclaimed the stout little man, turning to the second
youth, he who had delivered the cowardly blow and kick. "What have
you to answer?"

"He started it," came abruptly from the one questioned. "Tom called
me names and struck me."

"Ah!" exclaimed Septimus, regarding the youth coldly, till the latter
reddened beneath his scrutiny. "He started it, José, you say. Why?"

The youth addressed reddened even more at the question, while his
eyes shifted from the face of his interrogator to Tom's, and then
across to the girl's. Contrasting the two young fellows, Tom and
José, one could not compliment the latter; for he seemed to be the
very opposite of Tom. A year his senior, perhaps, he was lanky and
lean, while his arms and legs and body seemed to writhe and twist as
his eyes shifted from corner to corner. The chin disclosed weakness
of character and want of firmness, to which thin lips and watery
eyes added nothing. In short, José was anything but attractive.

"Why did Tom start this quarrel?" asked Septimus relentlessly, his
glasses turned on José all the while.

"I don't know," came the surly answer. "He's always quarrelling."

"Then you began the matter?" said Septimus, turning upon Tom the same
close scrutiny. "Why?"

"He didn't!" came abruptly from the girl, who was standing a few
paces from him. "José is not telling the truth. Even though he is my
brother, I can't remain quiet and know that he is blaming Tom for
what is really his own fault."

José's eyes gleamed as his sister spoke. His brows were knit together
and his thin lips pursed, as is the case with one in anger. At that
moment this unattractive youth looked as if he would willingly have
struck his own sister.

"She favours him," he cried angrily. "She's always on his side."

"Silence!" commanded Septimus sternly. "Now, Marguerite, tell me
about it."

"He started to tease me," declared the girl, nodding towards her
brother. "He splashed the letter I was writing with ink, and then
threw some over my needlework. Tom asked him to stop, and then called
him a bully. José threw the inkpot at him promptly."

"Ah!" came from the man seated in the centre. "And then?"

"Tom knocked him down twice; then they began to struggle together."

"It's a lie!" shouted José, beside himself with rage, his pale lips
trembling.

"Eh?" asked Tom curtly, advancing a pace towards him, and looking
threatening.

"Stop!" ordered Septimus, lifting a hand. "By rights I ought to leave
you two to settle the matter between you. I have no fears as to what
the result would be; for a man or youth who accuses his sister of
lying deserves a thrashing, while you, José, deserve it twice over.
You have lied yourself, and I myself saw you deliver a cowardly blow.
You will remain here and go on with your work; Tom will come below
with me. For the future try to be friendly to one another, at least
till you are parted."

"Parted?" asked Tom curiously, while a scowl showed on José's face.

"Yes, parted," repeated Septimus. "The time has come for you to go to
Oporto, Tom, there to act as representative of this business."

José's face was a study as he listened to the words and saw the
pride and enthusiasm with which Tom was so obviously filled. Even
Marguerite was regarding her cousin as if he were a hero, and,
indeed, that was the light in which she was wont to look at him. For
ever since he was a little fellow Tom had been Marguerite's special
protector, and often and often had he saved her from her brother's
ill treatment. José was, in fact, a bully. Sneaking and mean by
nature, he was the very opposite of his sister, and ever since the
two had been brought to the house he had been jealous of his cousin
Tom. That was the secret of their ill feeling from the beginning.
Provided José treated Marguerite fairly, Tom was prepared to live
on good terms with him. But always José regarded Tom as a fortunate
rival, as his future master; for was not Tom the son attached to the
firm? And now to hear that he was to go to Oporto, there to rule
the roast, filled José with envy and hatred. He could see Tom his
own master, with clerks to do his bidding, while he, José, the less
fortunate, was slaving at a humble desk in England. It roused his ire
when he recollected that were there no Tom he himself would fill his
place, and would one day be the head of the firm of Septimus John
Clifford & Son.

The scowl on José's face had deepened as Septimus spoke. Tom's happy
features incensed him to the point of bursting. A moment or so later,
when the door had closed between him and the other three, and while
their steps still resounded in the passage, José gave full vent to
his hatred and anger. He pranced up and down the room. He glared out
through the window as Tom appeared, and if looks could have killed,
that young fellow would have ceased to exist forthwith. Then José
flung himself petulantly on to a chair, buried his face in his hands,
and remained in that position for some few minutes, his restless
limbs writhing and twitching meanwhile.

Suddenly, however, he sat up and stared hard at the wall opposite.

"Why not?" he asked himself, as if apropos of nothing, while a
cunning leer bent his lips. "If there were no Tom, José would go to
Oporto. And who would carry out the work more fittingly? Tom shall
not go there. I swear that I will prevent him."

He was poring over a book half an hour later when Septimus entered
the room again with the intention of having a serious conversation
with him, and to all appearances José was a different individual. He
was sorry for the anger he had shown, sorry that he had insulted his
sister, and eager to be friendly with everyone. But, then, José was a
crafty individual. That night as he lay in bed within ten feet of our
hero he was concocting plans whereby to defeat the aims of Septimus,
and bring about the downfall of Tom, his cousin.



CHAPTER II

Underhand Conduct


Brisk action was a characteristic of Mr. Septimus Clifford, though
his portly frame gave one the impression that he might very well
be a sluggard. However, the bustle in those offices and warehouses
beside the river, the numerous clerks poring over ledgers and papers,
and the hands at work in the vaults amidst the huge butts of wine
told a tale there was no mistaking. Order and method pervaded the
establishment, and the master of the business was the creator of that
order and method. As we have said, too, he was a man of action.

"I'll send Tom off this day two weeks," he told the respectful
Huggins on the evening of that very day on which our hero was
introduced. "That will put a stop to all fighting, and no doubt
separation will wipe out old enmities, and in time to come the two,
Tom and José, will be capital friends. There's a boat sailing on
Friday fortnight."

"The _Mary Anne_," agreed Huggins. "Takes hardware from us, consigned
to the supply department of Wellington's army. There'll be no
difficulty in obtaining a passage."

"Then make all arrangements, please," said Mr. Septimus briskly.
"I'll have a chat with the lad, and tell him what we expect of him.
Send him to me."

The interview between father and son took place beneath the mulberry,
in the quaint and picturesque garden before the house in which the
firm transacted business, and there, seated in his basket chair,
Septimus discussed affairs with Tom.

"You'll make every effort to improve and perfect your Portuguese and
Spanish," he said, "and your French will be of the utmost use; for
once the Peninsula War is ended, and the French are driven out, it
will be one of your duties to arrange for wines to come from their
country. Of course, at Oporto you will place yourself in the hands
of your uncle, Dom Juan de Esteros, and will learn the business from
him. Put your back into it, boy, for Dom Juan will, I fear, not be
long with us. His health, always indifferent, has been much broken
by the anxieties of the past few years. And now you'd best get your
things together. Take a good stock of clothing, and perhaps a good
pistol is advisable, seeing that the country of Portugal is still in
a condition of disorder."

It may be imagined that the following two weeks were filled with
moments of interest for our hero. He was going abroad for the first
time in his life. He was about to make a start in the world, and that
world at this moment looked exceedingly rosy, so rosy that Tom's face
shone, his eyes flashed, he carried himself jauntily, and one and all
could see that he was full of good spirits to overflowing, and was
eagerly awaiting the voyage.

"That Master José'd give his boots to be in his place," reflected
Huggins one afternoon, as Tom went racing across the flower-decked
courtyard, and Marguerite after him. "It was a bad day, Emmott, for
this house when Mr. Septimus took him in and gave him a home. Not
that I say that of the young lady. She's different; she's like Master
Tom. We all love her."

"And dislike the brother--yes," agreed the junior clerk; "and I too
have a feeling that Master José bodes no good to his cousin. See his
face--he's watching the two going off down the river."

José was, in fact, lounging in the forecourt, one hand resting on
the boundary wall, while his lean, lanky body and thin limbs twisted
and writhed, as if to keep still were with him an impossibility. But
it was not those twisting limbs that repelled the two old clerks
watching him from the window--it was José's face. The brows were
drawn close together, the lips were half-parted, while there was an
intense look in the eyes which there was no fathoming.

"Bodes his cousin no good," Emmott ventured in low tones. "There's
no love lost between 'em. Not that Master Tom isn't ready to be
friendly. He is; for he's one of the easygoing sort. Still, he's a
stickler for what's proper, and he's stood by Miss Marguerite as if
he were her own brother. That José's scowling."

The lanky youth was actually doing that. No one could doubt the fact;
but nevertheless it was impossible to read the thoughts passing
through his brain. Could they have done so, both Huggins and Emmott
would have found ample reason for their feelings of uneasiness. For
José was scheming. Jealous of his cousin, as we have said already,
he had been envious of Tom almost from the day when Mr. Septimus had
brought his orphaned nephew and niece to his house. The children of
Mr. Septimus's sister, José and Marguerite, had been born in Oporto,
and had had the misfortune to lose first their mother and then their
father, brother of Dom Juan de Esteros. Thereafter they had lived
with Mr. Septimus as if they were his own children. And here was
José scheming to wreck his cousin's chances in the world, whereas
gratitude towards his Uncle Septimus should have made of him a fast
friend, and one ready to help Tom to the utmost.

"Going to Oporto, there to lord it over the office," he was muttering
between his teeth, as he watched Tom and Marguerite departing along
the river bank. "That leaves me here to slave over musty ledgers and
to learn the business from that old slowcoach Huggins. Suppose I'll
always be a clerk. One of these days Tom will come back as master,
and then he'll order me about."

It was a petty, childish manner in which to look at the matter, and
showed the narrow-minded view which José took of life. Contrary from
his cradle almost, he was mean in thought and act, and here was one
of his mean thoughts muttered beneath his breath, while his scowling
eyes followed the retreating figure of his cousin. José writhed his
way back into the house, and appeared again with a cap. Huggins,
watching from the office, saw him go away along the bank of the river
after the retreating figures of the other two.

"He's not up to any good, I'd lay," he told his fellow clerk, the
white-haired Emmott. "What's he following for, I'd like to know."

"Then let me go after him?" asked the other. "There's a message to be
taken along to the people who should have delivered goods to us this
morning, and I may just as well take it as George, the office boy."

The matter was arranged on the instant, and within five minutes
Emmott sauntered away in the wake of José. He followed him at a
discreet distance along the river bank, till José dived in amongst a
number of houses which clambered down to the water's edge. He caught
sight of him again beyond them, and half an hour later watched him in
converse with a ruffianly looking fellow whom he had accosted.

"Don't know the man," Emmott told himself. "Never saw him in my life
before, so far as I am aware. José seems to know him. He's--he's
giving him money."

Half-hidden behind the wall surrounding a warehouse, one of the
many erected there--for this was a busy part of the city, and huge
barges found deep water when the tide was up, and could load right
alongside the bank--Emmott watched as José passed something to the
hand of the man he was conversing with. The latter, a huge fellow,
dressed somewhat like a seaman, and bearded, might have been a sailor
from one of the many ships lying in the river, or he might have been
employed at one of the warehouses. He touched his forehead as José
put something into his hand, while the lad himself looked craftily
about him to make sure that no one was watching.

"What's he paying him for, that's what I'd like to know," Emmott
asked himself. "He's up to no good; but how can one say that his talk
with that rascal and the giving of money has anything to do with
Master Tom? Mr. Septimus would laugh at the very idea, and tell us to
mind our own business; but I for one shall keep my eyes on this José."

If the clerk imagined that he was thereby to catch José out in some
underhand act he was very much mistaken, for the young fellow was as
crafty as he was clever. More than that, though in his heart he hated
Tom, he was wise enough to know that scowls and bad temper would not
help him. From that very moment, indeed, he put on a smile whenever
Tom came near, was urbane and friendly with all, and appeared to be
genuinely sorry that his cousin was about to leave them.

"How'd you like to be a soldier, Tom?" he asked his cousin two
evenings later, when our hero's preparations for departure were
almost complete. "They're embarking troops this afternoon down the
river, all bound for Wellington's army."

It was information which was bound to tempt the light-hearted Tom.
For years, indeed, he had longed to be a soldier, and even now, when
his prospects with the firm of Septimus John Clifford & Son were so
apparently good, the old longing still assailed him. But if he could
not be a soldier in fact, Tom could vastly enjoy the sight of troops
embarking. He leaped at the opportunity, and that very afternoon saw
him making his way down the bank to the spot, some two miles distant,
where a sloop lay off in the river. Boats were passing to and from
her when Tom arrived upon the scene, and for two hours at least he
watched party on party of men embark, while his eyes feasted on
others drawn up in stiff lines on the bank. The bright uniforms, the
bustle, and the rattle of accoutrements and drums fascinated him. His
eyes were wide open with envy as he noticed that two at least of the
ensigns were no older than himself.

"And no stronger either," he told himself. "I'm as tall as they are,
and though they repeat orders splendidly, and don't seem afraid to
make their voices heard, I reckon I could do the same. What luck if
the French drove the English back and got as far as Oporto. Then I'd
see some of the fun. There's been terrific fighting in the Peninsula,
and folks say that there will be a heap more. Ah, there goes the
colonel's horse aboard! I never saw a horse embarked in my life
before."

Company after company of men descended to the boats and took their
places. Tom's eyes followed with almost childish eagerness the figure
of another youthful ensign. He was envious of his scarlet uniform, of
his belts and sword, and of the gaudy headdress he was wearing.

"If only I were a soldier," he sighed. "I'd enjoy a few years'
marching and fighting, and then settle down to the business. Ugh! An
office stool hardly compares with the life those fellows are leading."

He forgot the hardships inseparable from a soldier's life. Tom failed
to remember the reports he had read of the terrible plight of our men
and officers in the Peninsula. He knew nothing of wounds, terrible
wounds often enough, of disease which swept whole companies away,
or sent them back home helpless and useless for the reminder of
their lives. He saw only the glamour of a soldier's lot, the gallant
uniforms, the jolly comrades, the bustle and movement of the life.
So entranced was he, in fact, that he could have remained there
for hours an interested and envious spectator. But the evening was
drawing in, while only one company remained to be embarked. With a
sigh, therefore, Tom turned about and began to retrace his steps
along the bank in the direction of the premises of Septimus John
Clifford & Son.

"I'm a fool to let the wish to be a soldier upset my keenness for
office work," he reflected after a while. "There are lots of chaps
who would give their eyes for the opportunities I have. Yes, I'm a
fool. I must settle to the thing I've got, and--all the same I hope
there'll be some fighting round about Oporto."

"Hello, my sport!" he suddenly heard, as he was passing down a narrow
street between two of the many warehouses in that district. "Just
hold hard, and give us a pipe of 'bacca."

A huge individual came rolling towards him out of the darkness of a
passage cutting into the street, and was followed by a second man,
smaller than the first, but, if anything, more forbidding. Not that
Tom could see them clearly, for it was very dark in that narrow
street, the walls and roofs of the warehouses shutting the place in
completely.

"Hold hard, shipmate," the big man exclaimed again, rolling forward.
"A fill o' 'bacca ain't too much to ask from a man that follows the
sea."

He was close beside Tom by then, while his shorter companion was
immediately behind him. Even in that dark place one could see enough
of the couple to feel sure that they were anything but desirable, and
for a moment Tom considered the advisability of taking to his heels.
But then, reflecting that here in the neighbourhood of the docks and
quays there must be many seamen ashore on leave, and all perhaps
hilarious, he turned to the strangers and answered them pleasantly:

"Sorry I can't oblige," he said. "I haven't started smoking yet."

"What, my lively! ain't started smokin' yet?" came from the bigger
man. "Strike me, Bob, but here's a lubber as don't even chew, let
alone take hold of a pipe!"

There came a giggle from the smaller man, who sidled forward, and
coming from behind his companion, edged up to Tom's side.

"Don't smoke nor chew," he giggled in a queerly deep, gruff voice.
"Most like he's a young gent that has got out o' nights without his
mother knowing."

He dropped a parcel which he was carrying beneath one arm, and then
stooped at once to pick it up. A moment later he had sprung up behind
Tom, and with a quick movement had swung his parcel above our hero's
head. What followed took the young fellow so utterly by surprise that
he was completely dumbfounded; for a sack was drawn down over his
head and shoulders, and long before he could lift his arms the bigger
man had flung a coil of rope around him, pinning Tom's arms to his
side. But still he could fight, and, seized with desperation and with
anger, Tom lurched this way and that, kicking out in all directions,
hustling his captors from side to side till what appeared to them at
first a game began to annoy them. The bigger man clenched a huge fist
and drove hard at the centre of the sack with it.

"That's silenced him and made him quit foolin'," he grunted brutally,
for Tom dropped instantly and lay inert on the ground. "Jest get a
lift on to his toes, Bob; I'll take his head. We'll have him in
chokey afore he's shook the stars out of his eyes."

Without the smallest show of haste the two ruffians picked up
their burden and went off down the narrow alley leading from the
street. There was no need for them to fear interference, for police
hardly existed in those days, while respectable individuals did not
patronize the neighbourhood of the docks once night had fallen.
Business men, living as they did in the early years of the nineteenth
century above their premises, sat in the candlelight behind their
shutters once evening had come, and if they ventured forth at all,
took some sort of guard with them. It followed, therefore, that no
one even observed the two men strolling away with their burden. Even
had they been seen, the observer would in all likelihood have hurried
away in the opposite direction, for drunken sailors were inclined to
be more than rough. Robbery was not by any means unknown, while even
murder was now and again committed in the slums adjacent to the river.

In less than ten minutes from the moment when Tom had been so hardly
treated the two men came to a halt at a low doorway, the bigger of
the two beating upon it heavily.

"Open!" he shouted, as if there were no need for concealment, and he
had no reason to fear being overheard. "Open quick, or Sam here'll
want to know the reason why there's delay."

"Comin'," ejaculated his small companion in that same strangely deep
and wheezing voice, a voice which by rights should have belonged to
a man of double his proportions. "I can hear the lass a-comin', Sam.
Here she is. This is one more to add to the boys we're collecting."

At that moment, while the little man was in the act of stuffing some
hard black cuttings of tobacco into a short pipe, the door of the
house they had come to was opened noiselessly, and there appeared
a frowsy-headed woman bearing a smoking oil lamp. She stood aside
without a word and waited for the two men to carry in their burden.
The door closed, and the procession passed through a passage into
a large room, just within the doorway of which sat a man as big as
he who had been called Sam, armed with pistol and cutlass. Half a
dozen other men were in the place, breathing an atmosphere that was
almost stifling. A dangling lamp shed a feeble light on every hand,
while in one corner stood a bottle, in the neck of which was secured
a lighted candle, with the aid of which another armed individual was
laboriously spelling out the print on a piece of torn newspaper.

"What ho!" he cried, looking up, and disclosing a countenance which
was distinctly brutal. A towsled head of hair, which would appear
to have been innocent of receiving any attention for a long while,
covered forehead and ears and neck, and was inseparably joined to a
pair of side whiskers that might have been combed a year before. One
cheek was deeply seamed by a long, straggling scar, while the eye
above was covered by a patch of black material.

"What ho!" he cried again, leering at the newcomers, and drawing his
clay from between his teeth. "You've had luck to-night. I can see as
you've nobbled the one as you was after."

"And gets double pay," growled the man who sat at the door with
cutlass and pistol in his lap. "Pay from them as has need for lads
aboard, and pay from t'others as wants to get rid of a friend. You've
bagged the sum from the covey, Sam?"

Sam made no answer for the moment, but got rid of his burden by
the simple and easy method of dropping Tom's person heavily on the
floor. Standing over him, he proceeded to fill his pipe, and, having
completed the task to his liking, stretched across, snatched the
bottle in which the candle was fixed, and sucked the flame into the
bowl of his pipe. Then his eyes went slowly round the room, and,
passing the wretch at the door and the one against the far wall, he
let them fall upon the six individuals who also tenanted the room. He
counted them carefully, and then jerked his head in the direction of
our hero.

"Pull the sack off, Bob," he said, "and jest you two keep yer tongues
close in between yer teeth--hear that, Jem, and you too, Sandy? Tight
in between yer teeth. This here business has to be conducted with
caution and discretion; and if we does trade with others besides the
folks that pays for the men, why there ain't no need to cry it out
for everyone to hear--eh?"

The last exclamation was almost in the nature of a threat. Evidently
the individual with the patch over one eye, who boasted of the
towsled head of hair and the unkempt whiskers, was known as Sandy,
and Sam's words, and the scowl he directed at the man, had the
instant effect of causing him once more to busy himself with his
reading. The other, the man who sat fully armed at the door, and was
known as Jem, coloured under his tan, looked as fierce as Sam for a
moment, and then laughed uproariously.

"You do work yourself up, Sam," he laughed. "Who's there here to let
on what business we do? These?" pointing at the six other inmates
of the room. "Not much, me hearty. They'll be aboard come midnight,
and to-morrow they'll be that sick they'll have forgotten you and me
and everything almost. But you've drawn the stuff; been paid by that
young spark as hired you to work it?"

Sam answered him with a snort and with a violent shake of his head.

"Presently," he said, meanwhile watching as the rascal Bob removed
the sack from Tom's head. "All in good time. The young nobleman's
coming here to make sure as there's no mistake, and once the lad
there's aboard, the rest of it'll be paid. But it won't end there."

"Eh?" asked Jem quickly, while Sandy and Bob looked up keenly,
avarice and rascality written on their faces. "Don't end there,"
said Jem; "how's that?"

"Blood money ain't all we gets," lisped Sam, allowing a cruel smile
to cross his face. "I'll tell you why. I know the young spark as got
us to work this business. Well, when this lad's gone aboard, and is
away, I'll be axing for more of his gold. Supposing he can't pay,
then----"

A hideous grin wrinkled Sandy's face, throwing into greater
prominence the scar that seamed it. Bob dragged the sack from
Tom's head and then turned to smile at his leader. Jem brought a
massive fist down with a bang on the table, and once more burst into
uproarious laughter. It was obvious, in fact, to each one of these
rascals that Sam had at hand a ready means with which to force more
money from the man who had bribed him to capture our hero. Let us put
the matter clearly. José had met the ruffian Sam some time before,
and had discovered him to be one of those infamous crimps who earned
a rich living by snatching men from their employment ashore and
passing them over to ships' captains. The impressment of men in those
days was not illegal, and since crews were often enough hard to come
by, and these rascally crimps were more or less a necessary evil,
they flourished unmolested, and many a poor lad was suddenly torn
from his home to be smuggled aboard ship, and never heard of again
by his own people. Also many a private grudge was wiped out in this
manner. Tom was not the first youth by a great many who had been
suddenly spirited away at the bidding of, and with the aid of gold
paid by, a relative.

As for the others in the room, they were prisoners like Tom. Four
were young men of twenty-two or three, while the others were almost
middle-aged, and undoubtedly sailors. These two sat at the table,
smoking heavily and helping themselves to spirits contained in a
square jar set upon it. The other men sat despondently upon a form,
eyeing their captors resentfully, and yet in a manner which showed
clearly that all the fight was knocked out of them. Like the two at
the table they were becoming resigned to the position, and no doubt
would settle down in time and become good seamen.

"Just throw a pail of water over his head," Sam ordered, pointing
the stem of his pipe at Tom, who lay senseless where they had
dropped him, his face pale in the feeble light of the lamp, his hair
dishevelled, while a thin trickle of blood oozed from the corner of
his mouth. "Then pull his duds off and let him have a suit that'll
do for him aboard. Ah! He's coming round. Trust Sam to strike a blow
that won't do no harm and spoil trade for him. Sit him up, Bob, and
when he's feeling more hisself, give him a go of spirits and a smoke."

The whole affair was a horrible exhibition of the brutality and the
lawlessness of those times--times even now designated by some as
the good ones. The ruffians who plied this human traffic were as
utterly devoid of feeling as they well could be, and looked upon
each one of their captures, not as a fellow being, but as so much
value in gold, silver, and pence, so much profit in their business.
It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that Tom's forlorn appearance
had no effect upon them. The heartless and rascally Bob procured a
pail of water and tossed the contents over him, drenching the lad
from head to foot. He shook him violently, and when our hero feebly
opened his eyes, the wretch placed a pannikin of strong spirits to
his lips, dragged his head backwards--for he had placed his captive
in a sitting posture, his back resting against a form--and roughly
poured the contents into his mouth. The effect was magical. Tom sat
forward with a gasp, spluttering and choking. The colour rushed to
his cheeks, and in a twinkling he seemed to gather his wits and his
memory together. How he got into that room, who the people were, he
had no idea. But Bob's grinning face was within his reach, and he
was undoubtedly the rascal who had dealt with him so roughly but a
few seconds before. In any case Tom waited for no explanation. He
launched himself at Bob, struck him heavily with his fist, and then
closed with him.

"The young tiger," growled Sam, stretching out a huge hand and
catching him firmly by the shoulder. "Blest if he isn't the boy to
fight them Frenchies. Avast there, me hearty! Bob ain't used to
violent assaults."

Bob evidently was not accustomed to hard knocks himself, though he
might often enough have cause to give them to others while plying his
nauseous trade. In any case he was furious, and but for Sam, once the
latter had torn Tom away from him, the smaller man would have vented
his wrath by striking his almost fainting prisoner in the face.

"Avast there!" shouted Sam, keeping him off. "Ain't I axed you to
bring him round quick, seeing as how the pressgang'll be along in a
winking? Ain't we got to change his duds, and you there trying to
make things wuss? Get off for the togs! Sandy, jest mix another go o'
grog. It'll pull him round lively. Jem, I leaves him in your charge
while I goes into the other room to do a little business."

Let the reader imagine a pale-faced and frightened youth cringing in
the squalid den to which the rascal Sam made his way. There, beneath
the same smoky lamp which the woman had borne to the door, sat José,
writhing this way and that, his limbs never at rest for a moment,
his fingers twining, his eyes shifting to every quarter, his lips
twisting this way and that. José would have run from his own shadow
on that occasion. The enormity of the crime he was perpetrating
had frightened him intensely. Not that he thought of Tom; he was
considering himself entirely. What if the whole foul scheme were
discovered? What if Septimus were to learn of his action?

"Ho!" shouted Sam, bursting in upon him. "Come to see as all's well?"

José could not answer; his knees positively shook beneath him, while
his bloodless lips would not frame the words he wished to utter. He
lifted squirming, trembling fingers to his lips and mouthed at Sam.
And then, with a huge effort, he managed to blurt out a few words.

"You--you've done it?" he asked.

"In chokey nice enough, master. Jest come along and take a squint at
him. If he's the bird--and I don't doubt it--why, the trick's done,
the money's earned, or mighty near it."

He led the trembling youth to the door of the other room, now closed
upon the poor fellows placed there, and sliding a shutter to one side
bade José look in.

"Eh?" he growled in his ear. "The right bird? No mistake, my hearty?"

Yes, there was Tom, pale and worn and sorrowful-looking, and more
than a little dazed if the truth be spoken. José recognized him at
once, and in place of feeling compassion for his cousin let all
the old feelings of envy and resentment have full sway. The eyes
looking through the shutter scowled at poor Tom. José's pallid cheeks
suddenly reddened at the thought of an approaching triumph. He backed
away, stepped into the smaller room again, and sat down with a
swagger.

"He goes to-night?" he asked, with an attempt at firmness.

"To-night! Almost this blessed minute."

"And all his things are taken from him--clothes, letters, and
anything likely to let others identify him?"

"Everything, on my davy!" came the answer.

"Then here is the money--take it."

José handed over twenty sovereigns, and as if the act had sealed his
guilt promptly began to tremble and writhe again. It was with a grin
of triumph that Sam saw him off the doorstep.

"You'll take more golden coins from the same till as you took that
from," he gurgled, chinking the money in his pocket. "It ain't hard
to read that you stole it. Well, Sam'll have his eyes on you, and ef
you don't like to hand out the cash, why, he's always got a way by
which he'll make you."

An hour later there was the tramp of many feet in the street outside,
and a hoarse command was given. By then Tom was feeling more himself,
and indeed was disposed to show fight at any moment. But he was one
against many, and in spite of protests had been compelled to change
his clothing. Now the door was thrown open, and a dozen seamen
marched in, each armed with a cutlass. The impressed men were placed
in the centre of their guard, and were marched off down the river.
A little later they embarked in a big cutter, a sail was hoisted,
and presently they were bowling down stream at a pace which soon
left the neighbourhood of London Bridge behind it, and with it the
good-hearted Septimus, together with the sneaking nephew who had this
very night done him such a mischief.

In the early hours Tom was hustled up the high side of a huge vessel,
and was as promptly driven down a steep flight of steps into a dark
hole, almost as noisome and unpleasant as the one in which Sam and
his gang had first received him. The rattle of ropes and blocks upon
the deck reached his ears, and soon the vessel rolled and heaved
uneasily. They were off, leaving behind them some few distracted
people; for Tom's sudden disappearance caused a commotion. He had
disappeared as completely as if the earth had covered him. Nor was
that his father's only loss; the cash drawer in his private office
had been rifled, and some twenty-five pounds were missing.

"Master Tom steal! Never!" exclaimed Huggins, when all the facts were
before him.

Mr. Septimus, as may be imagined, was heartbroken. When days had gone
by, and more than a week had passed without even a word from our
hero, the head of the house of Septimus John Clifford & Son became
despondent.

"Dead!" he almost blubbered, as Huggins stood before him in the
forecourt.

"Not a bit, sir," came the brisk answer. "Alive and kicking. Emmott
and I have been looking into the matter. Master Tom's at sea; it
won't be long before we hear from him."



CHAPTER III

Aboard a British Frigate


"Below there! You can come along up on deck, me hearties!"

An age seemed to have passed since Tom and his six companions were
driven from the deck of the big ship to which they had been brought
by the pressgang, and though the former had slept for many hours--for
he had been exhausted after such a trying experience--yet the few
hours he had been awake had dragged on leaden wheels. Meanwhile
the rattle of blocks and ropes overhead had been replaced by the
gentle surge of water alongside, and by a thousand strange groanings
and squeakings common to all sailing vessels. Indeed, placed where
he was, with his head close to the foot of one of the masts, that
penetrated the deck of the ship and passed through the dark prison in
which he and his comrades were confined, Tom could by the vibrations
and the groanings of the latter tell exactly when the wind freshened
and the sails dragged more strongly. But now, when he had begun to
imagine that he would never again see the light of day, there was a
banging overhead, then a square of light appeared, with faces framed
in it, while a hoarse voice bellowed a command. Tom rose briskly to
his feet, and, seeing the ladder, ran up it.

"Here!" he reported, standing erect and cheerful. For Tom was, in
his youthful way, quite a philosopher. "What can't be cured must
be endured," was one of his maxims. "I'm impressed, by some error
I suppose, and soon will be able to get the matter set right; but
for the moment it's just as well to appear pleasant. Here, sir!" he
reported to a short, stumpy individual with a decided flavour of the
sea about him, and with a nautical appearance that would have passed
him as a sailor in any port in the world.

"And ready fer duty too, eh, me hearty?" asked this bluff fellow,
eyeing him critically, and taking Tom's measure very thoroughly.
Looking back at him our hero could not help but see that this sailor
had a grim expression. His face appeared to say: "Well, now, you
can work if you like. If you don't you'll be hammered." There was a
threat in his eyes, and a jaunty manner about him which told that he
was prepared for the most refractory conduct.

"Ready fer duty, eh?" he repeated gruffly.

"Yes, sir," responded Tom promptly.

"Then jest you don't sir me, young feller-me-lad, else I'll think
you're saucing. But I like yer looks--get up on deck with you. Mr.
Riley, above there," he hailed, throwing his head back and staring
up through an open hatch, "here's a lubber as is willing and ready
fer duty!"

Tom caught a glimpse of an individual dressed in white breeches and
stockings, and a blue tail coat with some gilt braid about it, and,
realizing that this must be an officer, promptly mounted the steps.
In a moment or two he was on deck, standing beneath an expanse of
white canvas, and upon boards which were as white as any tablecloth.
Bluejackets were moving barefoot about the deck, while right aft an
officer stood at the rail of the poop, a speaking-trumpet in one
hand, his eye fixed on a dozen active figures scrambling amongst the
rigging. Tom gave a gasp of pleasure as the sun's rays fell upon
him, braced himself erect, and then looked the officer in the face.
He was a young man of twenty-six, perhaps, with clean-shaven, keen
features, his skin tanned brown by exposure, and the corners of his
eyes wrinkled and puckered as is the case with many sailors. For the
rest, Mr. Riley was decidedly a pleasant, jovial-looking officer, and
won Tom's confidence at once.

"Well, my lad?" he asked pleasantly.

"Ready for duty, sir," reported Tom again, having nothing better to
say. "And hungry, sir," he added, feeling a decided sinking sensation.

That brought a smile to the lips of the officer. He looked our hero
up and down, just as the man down below had done, and then smiled
again.

"What trade before you joined?" he asked, referring to a notebook,
and producing a pencil with which to take notes.

"None, sir; I am the son of Mr. Septimus John Clifford, of London
Bridge, wine merchant. My impressment must be a mistake."

"All impressments are mistakes," came the curt answer. "You are ready
to serve His Majesty?"

"Yes, sir," answered Tom. "Ready for the moment. Later on, when I
am able to prove that a mistake has been made, no doubt I shall be
released. I'm ready for any duty, only I'd like a feed first."

"No trade; says he is the son of a wine merchant at London Bridge.
Obviously a gentleman," Mr. Riley entered in his notebook. "A likely
fellow, and cheerful. Will start duty at once, and willingly. Pass
the call there for the master messman."

He stood before Tom, his neat figure swaying as the ship lurched here
and there, his eyes now fixed on the swelling canvas, now on the
officer at the rail, and often, when Tom's attention was attracted
elsewhere, at that young fellow himself.

"Undoubtedly a gentleman," he told himself. "Of course in the case of
nearly every man who is impressed there is a complaint that the thing
is a mistake, that he ought never to have been impressed. In any case
the whole thing is disgraceful. Better pay and better conditions
would attract the right stamp of man to the navy. But we're here to
carry out regulations, not to frame them. I'll keep my eye on the
lad. Name again?" he asked, making Tom jump.

"Tom Clifford."

"That the full name?" asked the officer, beginning to make another
note.

"Septimus John Esteros Thomas Clifford," responded our hero, with a
grimace. "Rather a lot of 'em, sir, I'm afraid."

"Enough even for an admiral," laughed the officer. "Ah, here's the
messman! Waters, just take this young fellow with you and see that he
gets a good meal. Report here to me, Clifford, when you have eaten."

He swung round to stare down into the depths of the ship, for sounds
were coming from the prison in which Tom and his companions had
been confined. There was the noise of a scuffle, while a glance
below showed the burly, stumpy salt who had hailed the impressed men
swarming down into the depths. Some of the men were, in fact, loath
to come up. Unlike Tom, they were disposed to be sulky, and, lest
trouble should follow, three sailors were swarming down after the old
salt, one bearing a lantern.

"Below there!" called out Mr. Riley, anxious to avoid a struggle.
"You men must understand that you have been impressed into His
Majesty's Navy, and any disobedience of orders now, or violence, will
be treated as mutiny. Send them up, me lad!"

The lamp shining upon the face of the old salt who had led the way
below, and the fierce expression he wore quelled any thought of
mutiny there may have been, and within five minutes the other six men
brought aboard with Tom were ranged on the deck, pale and dishevelled
for the most part, sulky and anything but cheerful in appearance. Mr.
Riley gave them the same searching examination that he had bestowed
on Tom, and then entered their names and notes concerning each one in
his book.

"Take them down to the messman and see that they have a good meal,"
he commanded, when he had finished. "They'll feel better when they've
had it; and, mind this, my lads, a sulky face'll do nothing for you
aboard this frigate. It'll bring kicks and cuffs and short rations;
so look at the matter from the right point of view and take to the
life cheerfully."

He dispatched them with a pleasant smile, for this Mr. Riley was a
kind individual, and one well accustomed to dealing with men. He
had the wisdom to see that hunger may produce easily enough a fit
of sulkiness, and seeing that all the impressed men must be in want
of a meal, and were undoubtedly sulky, he sent them off for that
meal, hoping that with appetites satiated they would take to their
duties with the same readiness as our hero had shown. Nor was he
disappointed. When, half an hour later, the six men ascended to the
deck again, they looked far happier, and from that moment fell into
the ways of the ship with a cheerfulness that was commendable. As for
Tom, he was up before them, and scrambling over the deck as best he
could--for the breeze had freshened, and the big frigate was jumping
about in a lively manner--he drew himself up before the officer.

"Ready, sir!" he said, repeating the old expression.

"Feel seasick?" came the interrogation.

"Not a bit, sir. I've been to sea a few times with my father. We used
to hire a sloop and cruise along the coast in summertime."

"Then you're used to getting aloft?"

"A little, sir, but only aboard a sloop. These masts are terrific."

He cast his eyes aloft, and the officer likewise. There could be no
doubt that the masts did tower to a great height. But then this was
a large frigate, with seventy grinning guns behind her closed ports.
Tom knew that already, for the messman who had conducted him below,
and who was decidedly a pleasant, kindly individual, had given him
much information. The meal, too, had been partaken of on the lower
deck, where the space between it and that above was so cramped that
even Tom could not stand upright, while all along the sides, firmly
cabled to ring-bolts in the deck, were grinning cannon, sponge rods
and all the paraphernalia necessary for loading being hung on racks
close to them, and secured there firmly.

"You'd go aloft without feeling squeamish then?" asked Mr. Riley,
feeling a strange interest in our hero.

"I'd go, sir," came the ready answer. "Whether I'd exactly like it at
first is an altogether different matter."

"Then you'll soon have the opportunity of making the test. You'll be
in my watch, Clifford. Now come along up on the poop. Don't forget to
touch your cap as you come up; ah, wait though! We'll put you into
proper sailor rig first; I'll send you down to be fitted."

It was perhaps half an hour later when a smart-looking young sailor
obeyed the call of the boatswain and came aft to the poop. Dressed in
his new clothing, his hair brushed and his face and hands washed, Tom
looked a really smart young fellow, and Mr. Riley smiled his approval
when he saw him.

"Pass him up, boatswain," he called, and at the order the burly
individual shouted at our hero.

"Mind yer touch yer cap as you get above," he warned him, "just as
Mr. Riley had done." And, obedient to the order, Tom raised his hand
the moment his foot touched the poop or quarterdeck of the frigate.

"Come with me, Clifford," said Mr. Riley, leading the way. "I'm
taking you to the commander. Fair-play is a thing a sailor prizes,
and, as you complain that there has been some mistake about your
impressment, I reported the same to the commander. He will question
you himself."

They passed across a snow-white deck and entered a gallery, outside
which an armed sentry was stationed. The officer tapped at a door,
and passed in, followed by our hero. Tom found himself in a large
cabin, at the back of which two guns were situated, roped and
secured to deck rings as were those others he had seen in the 'tween
decks. An officer, dressed just like Mr. Riley, but evidently older,
sat at a table, with charts spread out before him. He looked up as
the two entered, and then went on writing.

"One of the new men, sir; impressed two nights ago; reports that he
was taken in error. You have the notes of his case before you."

Once more Tom found himself being inspected with that open gaze which
is the right of all officers. He returned the glance of his commander
respectfully and firmly.

"Age?" asked the officer jerkily.

"Nearly eighteen, sir.

"Tell me all about yourself, lad," came from the commander, and with
such kindness that Tom promptly responded. He gave the history of
the family in a few words, and stated how he was about to sail for
Oporto, there to learn the business of the firm and take charge when
proficient.

"Ah! Anyone with a grudge against you?" was asked quickly.

Tom wondered and racked his brains. He could think of no one, unless
it could be the grocer's young man, who was wont to pass along the
river bank every morning. Exactly two months before he had had an
altercation with that young fellow, who stood a trifle higher than
he did, and was at least a year older. He had shown rudeness when
passing Marguerite, and Tom had resented the rudeness. The fight
that followed had been of the fiercest, and the grocer's apprentice
had been handsomely beaten.

"No one, sir," he answered, "unless it could be the fellow I had a
row with some weeks ago," and then explained the occurrence.

"Pooh! Impossible," declared the commander. "Lads who get fighting
don't bear ill will. The letting of a little blood cures a young chap
of that entirely. You shook hands?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Then look elsewhere; someone perhaps was jealous of you,
thought you were a nuisance. Who were the other members of the firm
and the family?"

Tom told him, wondering all the while whether there were one amongst
them capable of getting him impressed so as to remove him. "José?" he
asked himself. "Impossible! He'd never be guilty of such ingratitude
to father, though I suppose, if I were out of the way, he would
succeed to the business one of these fine days."

Little by little the commander ferreted such thoughts out of our
hero, and ended by placing his finger on the name of José.

"Your cousin, you said," he exclaimed. "You were always good friends?"

Tom had to reply in the negative, and give the reasons.

"And he was next in succession to yourself, I think?"

"Yes, sir. But--but it's impossible! My father rescued him and his
sister from poverty."

"Nothing is impossible, my lad. This matter must be looked into.
There seems no doubt that you have been impressed in the hope of
removing you altogether. Or the matter may have been a mistake,
helped by the fact that you were in those parts at a time when you
should have been safely at home. For the moment you are in the
service of His Majesty, and although I could order that you be given
no duty, I've an idea that that would hardly meet with your wishes?"

"I'd rather work, sir," responded Tom eagerly. "I like ship life,
and the experience may be useful. If only you will give me the
opportunity of writing home, I will willingly act as one of the hands
aboard, and work in that way till I am released."

"That's the spirit, my lad," exclaimed the commander. "He's in your
watch, Mr. Riley, and I know you'll look after him. As to writing,
you can do that; Mr. Riley shall see to it. I also will write to your
father and to the authorities. We shall fall in with a boat homeward
bound shortly, and in a week perhaps your people will know what has
become of you. There, my lad, I like your spirit."

The commander shook hands with our hero, an uncommon honour, and then
sent him off with Mr. Riley. And that very night Tom sat down in the
latter's cabin to write his letter, telling his father exactly what
had happened.

Next morning, early daylight, the first streak of dawn in fact, found
him on deck, his feet naked, a deck brush in his hand. He joined the
gang of men engaged in washing down, and, if the truth be known,
thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Meanwhile the fine frigate was
pressing along under easy sail, a fresh wind abeam, ploughing her way
through a sunlit sea that might have belonged to the Mediterranean.

"We're jest cruising on and off watching for a Frenchie, me lad,"
explained one of his messmates, a jovial old salt who had seen many
an action at sea. "There's never no saying when a Frenchie may turn
up, and then we're bound to be at 'em. But they ain't so frequent
nowadays as they was. Yer see, Spain and Portugal being joined to
France, the French has simply to slip over the mountains, and that's
how they're sendin' men in to fill the ranks of their armies. Queer
thing, ain't it, that Boney should want them countries for his own?
He's always a-grabbin'. The earth won't find lands enough for him
by the way he's going on. But he'll get beaten handsome some day. I
ain't so sure as we won't do it for him. Know all about this here
campaign in the Peninsula, as Spain and Portugal's called?"

Tom modestly admitted that he knew something about the fighting.
"It's a long business," he said. "Boney put his own brother on the
throne of Spain, and of course the Spaniards wouldn't have him. At
the same time he had taken Portugal for himself. He's been the
terror of Europe these many years, and as he aims at subjugating
England also, why, we gladly agreed to go in and help the Portuguese
and Spaniards. As for the fighting, there's been such a heap of it
that it is quite bewildering."

"Aye, and it's easy to see as you're a gent as has been used to
better things than the lower deck," said the salt. "What're you here
for? Grabbin' something that wasn't yourn?"

He put out a hand to touch Tom's sleeve the instant after, for he saw
him flush with indignation. "I'm sorry, lad," he said. "It's plain as
it wasn't that."

However, the lower deck in those days was not peopled entirely by
kindly disposed individuals. Bluff and hearty and plucky men there
were in abundance, if their language was not always refined or their
habits too particular. But then, as now perhaps, the coming of a
young fellow of Tom's stamp amidst a rather rough crowd was apt to
draw attention to him, attention not always of the most pleasing. And
it so happened that there was one in the mess to which Tom had been
posted who seemed to resent his coming. Higgins was a bull-necked,
squint-eyed young fellow of some twenty years, and had been sent from
a prison to the navy, as had many another. He was possessed of a
thin, mean face, over which dangled one long forelock. For the rest,
it may be stated that he was accustomed as a general rule to say very
little, having discovered himself unpopular amongst the men; though,
to be sure, whenever there did happen to arrive aboard the ship a
youngster smaller than himself, Higgins was the first to attempt to
bully him. For some reason he had taken a violent dislike to Tom.
Possibly he was jealous of the attention he had gained, or of the way
in which he came to good terms with the men. Whatever the cause, he
was determined to browbeat him, and took this, the first opportunity.

"I dunno as you ain't right, Jim," he sang out coarsely, the instant
the other had spoken. "Why shouldn't he be here for grabbin'? There's
lots comes to the navy on that account, and why shouldn't he? I'll
lay he has, too."

"Then you're mistaken," said Tom firmly. "I was impressed; every fool
knows that."

"Oh, every fool knows it, do they?" was the sharp answer. "You ain't
calling me a fool?"

"Jest you put a stopper on yer tongue and belay," sang out the salt,
seeing all the elements of a quarrel in this discussion, and noticing
Tom's flushed cheeks, and the rising anger of Higgins. "'Sides, I
ain't Jim to you, me lad, and don't you ferget it. I'll take a rope's
end to you afore you're a minute older if you ain't careful."

But Higgins had allowed his temper to rise to the point where it was
uncontrollable. He had expected Tom to accept his remarks meekly, as
became a new hand, and, finding he had not done so, was determined
to pick a quarrel with him. There are always such cantankerous
individuals in the world, and it was Tom's fortune to hit up against
this one. He, too, was roused, for he resented the man's impertinence.

"I'll back as he's a jail bird," declared Higgins, thinking that by
making a firm stand in this altercation he would stimulate his own
popularity amongst the men. "He's a gent that's took the money out of
the till and then been collared. The easiest way to cover the thing
was to hand him over to a crimp. That's how he's here--I know him."

He had probably never set eyes on our hero before, and had he done so
would not have dared to address him in such a manner. But Tom was one
of the deck hands, one of themselves, and, moreover, a newly-joined
recruit, too often destined for a time to be the butt of his fellows.
Higgins counted on his giving way at once. Most recruits are
awe-stricken at first by the strangeness of their surroundings, and
perhaps by the roughness of their companions. Besides, bullying airs
and ways, backed most probably by other individuals, are apt to cause
a young fellow to choose the easier path and swallow his displeasure.
However, Tom was one of the obstinate sort. Fighting was nothing new
to him, and to show his readiness for a contest, and the fact that he
was by no means afraid of an encounter, he promptly began hostilities
by pitching the contents of a jug of water over Higgins.

"I'll ask you to understand that when I say a thing I mean it, and
that I tell a lie for no one," he said, rising from his seat and
undoing the neckerchief which he, like the others, wore about him.
"I don't know what the rules are aboard a king's ship; but this I do
know, I allow no man to suggest that I am a thief or a liar. Take
back what you've said or I'll trounce you."

There was a commotion in the 'tween decks by now. Men crowded about
the long narrow tables stretching from the side of the ship towards
the centre, and which was one of many. Like the rest, too, it was
constructed to lift up to the deck above and be attached there,
leaving the decks free for movement. Jim had meanwhile risen to his
feet, and now held his hand high for silence.

"Mates," he said, "there's trouble brewin' here. This new mate of
ours is a good 'un, and I'll not allow him to be stamped on. Higgins
here has just now called him a thief and a liar, and the young spark
has drenched him with water. If Higgins don't come down handsome with
a 'pology there's only one thing left."

"A set to, and right it'll be," burst in another of the men, one of
the seniors. "Fightin' don't do no great harm, and it's necessary
when one mate calls another names that tastes nasty. You, Higgins,
admit you called him a liar and a thief?"

"Of course," came the coarse answer. "I'm goin' ter thrash him."

"You are, are you?" came the grim reply from the old salt, while he
sized up the two young fellows swiftly, craning his head to one side
as if he were a bird. "I dunno so much; the new mate looks as if he
could use his hands lively. You ain't goin' to 'pologize?"

"Not likely! I'll hammer him till he'll be glad to admit that what
I've said's as true as gospel."

If he imagined that Tom would keep him waiting he was much mistaken,
for that young fellow had already rolled his sleeves to the elbow.
Indeed, as we have intimated, he was no novice. Not that he was by
nature quarrelsome; but those were rough days, and like many another
boy Tom had need now and again to defend his honour. He stood away
from the table, waiting while it and two or three next to it were
swung out of the way. Then, bending low so that his head would not
hit the deck above, he stepped to the centre of the circle which the
men immediately formed.

"Any sort of rules?" he asked coolly. "Anyone keepin' time?"

"Go as you please, mate," came Jim's answer. "A sailor don't ax fer
breathing time if he comes up alongside a Frenchie, and you don't
have no call for it either. It's the same fer both, and as fair and
square as may be. But it'll have to be straight work. We stops the
fight if there's foul hitting."

A fight in the 'tween decks was no unusual occurrence in those
days, and was a source of some interest to the men of the navy.
Hard fellows without an exception, they had been brought up in a
stern school which taught that a man must look to himself alone for
protection. But they could recognize spirit, and Tom took their fancy
wonderfully.

"He's game, he is," declared one of the men, as he doubled his arms
and pressed forward to watch the contest. "And he ain't no weakling.
You can see as he's not used to haulin' and suchlike, and ain't been
a tar over long. But I like his figure-head. It's clean and well-cut,
and he's a beam on him that carries weight, and'll lend strength to
a blow when he gets one home. He ain't no new 'un at the game, I'll
stake my Davy. That boy has been grappled on to a job like this many
a time."

The ten minutes which followed proved that Tom was something also
of a scientist; for he played with his antagonist. It was clear, in
fact, after five minutes that he would be the victor, though at first
he had some ugly rushes to stop and some hard hitting to protect
himself from. But science and generally good condition told, and
while at the end of some ten minutes, during which the two broke away
now and again to pant and glare at one another, only to begin once
more at the shouts of the crew, Higgins was almost in a condition of
exhaustion, Tom was still comparatively fresh. He stopped a furious
and last attempt on the part of Higgins to rush him up against the
side of the ship, and then, darting forward, struck the man full in
the mouth, sending him sprawling.

Higgins lay for a minute without movement, and then his hand went
back towards the knife which, sailor-like, he carried attached to his
belt and well behind him.

"Drop that!" shouted Jim. "Now, Higgins, you as was a-goin' ter whack
this young shaver, say as you 'pologize for callin' him names."

For a second there was defiance on what was still recognizable as
that young man's face. Then he nodded his head in assent. Tom at once
went towards him, his hand outstretched.

"Shake hands, and let's be friends," he said. "I dare say you didn't
understand how I'd take what you said. But where I come from a man
fights and fights again when another calls him thief or liar. There,
shake hands and let's be friends in the future."

There was a cheer at that, while the men gathered round our hero,
patting him on the back with such heartiness that his remaining
breath was almost driven from his body. Some of the more enthusiastic
even began to chair him, and had carried him as far as the deck
ladder, when the sudden shrill piping of whistles and the appearance
of an officer put a stop to the movement. It was Mr. Riley, a long
glass beneath one arm, his other hand on the rail of the ladder.

"My lads," he began, about to give an order, and then, suddenly
catching sight of Tom, ceased abruptly. Casting his eye over the
heads of the men, he soon picked out the somewhat miserable figure of
Higgins.

"Ah," he said, "a fight! My lads, strictly against orders. But I've
news for you--we've rounded up a Frenchman. Clear these decks."

He was gone in a twinkling, his coat tails swinging behind him. But
as he turned he contrived to smile at our hero.

"Licked that young man Higgins. That's good," he was saying as he
raced up the ladder. "Young Clifford has courage. Wonder how he'll
behave when shot and cannon balls come crashing amongst us; he's just
the boy for this service."

When Tom had washed his face and had clambered to the deck he saw a
large vessel some four miles away, bearing up towards the frigate,
while a smaller one sailed behind her.

"Ship o' the line, mate," said Jim, who was leader of the squad of
men of whom our hero was one, who had the working of one gun. "It'll
be tough business, and ef she wasn't so big I doubt as she'd sail up
so cocky towards us. But we'll give her what for; we're fair death on
Frenchies."

A magnificent sight the Frenchman made as the distance between the
two vessels decreased. Tom peeped at her through the wide-open port
and admired the enormous spread of white above her, the seething foam
at her forefoot, and the gleam of her broad decks that came into view
now and again as the ship heaved to the swell of the ocean. Then
a spout of white smoke burst from her fo'castle; a flash severed
it in twain and was followed after a distinct interval by a dull
reverberating report. The shot reached its mark almost at the same
moment. There was a crash within ten feet of Tom. The side of the
vessel at that point burst inward in a hundred splinters, and the
iron messenger struck the very next gun to his, slithered and crashed
across the 'tween decks, and finally brought up short against the
opposite side. It roused a cheer of excitement from the crew.

"That's shootin'!" cried Jim. "She's the sort for our money. In a
jiffy we'll be layin' into her. Just take a sight along the gun, Tom,
and larn now how to pitch a ball into a Frenchie."



CHAPTER IV

A Naval Encounter


In the ordinary way the immediate prospect of an encounter at sea
might be expected to rouse qualms in the breast of a novice, and we
cannot affirm that Tom would have been any exception to the rule
on this his first meeting aboard an English frigate with a French
man-of-war. But there was so much else to attract his attention.
Even in those days the wooden walls of our stout ships contained
sufficient to interest even a dullard, and to a lad of active brain,
as was our hero, there were things to watch and marvel at, while the
men themselves grouped in the 'tween decks were quite a study. They
stood about their guns stripped to the waist, joking and merry, the
master of each gun with his eye on the sights. Close at hand a lad
sat on a long narrow tub filled to the brim with powder.

"Powder monkeys we call 'em," said Jim in a hoarse whisper. "The
young villains! They're always up to some sort o' mischief, and when
it comes to fighting, blest if they wouldn't take on the whole of
Boney's fleet alone. They ain't the lads to squeak. If we fetch up
alongside the Frenchman, and there's a call for boarding parties,
them imps is amongst the first to answer."

"Stand ready!" the order came at this moment, and turning his head
Tom caught a glimpse of Mr. Riley, still with a long glass beneath
his arm, his sword belted to his side, and his shapely form bent so
as to allow him to peer through one of the ports. "Stand ready, men,"
he shouted. "Gun layers train your sights on the enemy and aim low.
Between wind and water is the mark, lads!"

The crew of the guns answered him with a cheer, and for a while gun
layers stretched over the weapons they commanded, sighting for the
enemy. Tom watched as Jim squinted along the sights, and then peered
out at the French ship of the line. She was bowling along before a
fresh breeze, heeling well over, so that half her deck showed. He
could see a mass of men on it, and others running to and fro, while
quite a number were clambering into the rigging.

"Shows she means to come right up close," said Jim in his gruff
way. "That'll suit us nicely. Hammer and tongs is the best sort of
fighting for us boys, and we don't get it too often. She's going to
run right in and when there's a broadside it'll be a close one, and
thunder won't be in it."

"Stand by to fire!" was heard through the 'tween decks, while an
instant later there came a roar from the deck above, a trembling
and shaking of the whole vessel which all could feel, and then the
rumble of wheels as the guns were run in, sponged out and reloaded.
By now the enemy had disappeared from sight behind a huge cloud of
smoke, which, however, was whisked away swiftly by the breeze. It
was a minute later, perhaps, when the French battleship was again
visible, that Mr. Riley gave the order to fire, and Tom was witness
of the result for the first time in his life. Jim touched the vent of
the gun with his portfire, and instantly a squirt of flame and smoke
shot upward. There was a huge commotion in the gun itself. Though
braced into position by numerous cables it started backward, drawing
them as tight as iron bars, while the wheels thudded heavily on their
runners. The commotion was accompanied by that of every other gun on
that deck in the broadside, while the ship herself shook from end
to end. The roar of the discharge was indescribable, and deafened
him, while the 'tween decks was instantly filled with volumes of
sulphurous smoke.

"Slack off! Haul her back, boys!" came in stentorian notes from Jim.
"Run her in quick. Now with the sponge rods, and we'll have a second
charge into her before the smoke's cleared."

Five minutes later Mr. Riley's voice was heard. "Stand by for another
broadside," he bellowed. "Double shot your guns next time--ah!"

The frigate quivered from end to end; she seemed to have been struck
by a cyclone. An iron hail beat on her sides, bursting them in in
many directions, while splinters of iron and wood flew across the
'tween decks, striking men down in many directions. In one brief
second the orderliness of the place was transformed to the most utter
disorder, as the enemy had answered the frigate's broadside with one
of her own. Tom looked about him wonderingly, dazed by the commotion
and astounded at what he saw. For by now the wind blowing in at the
open ports had cleared all the smoke away, and he could see all that
was happening in the 'tween decks. There lay the gun on his right a
wreck, turned on its side, its muzzle crushed out of sight, two of
its wheels broken and half-buried in the deck. What had before been
a square porthole was now an irregular, torn opening, through which
a vast expanse of sea could be watched. But it was the poor wretches
who had manned the gun who claimed his greatest attention. Five of
them lay mangled upon the deck, with pools of blood accumulating
about them and draining off towards the scuppers in trickles and
streams. On the port side, opposite where the gun had stood, three
men had been struck by the missile, and lay silent and motionless.
Elsewhere there were rents in the side of the frigate, and men lay
about in all postures, some moaning, others silent, nursing a wounded
arm or leg. This was war; this was the treatment meted out by one
nation to another.

But of loss of discipline there was none. If the 'tween decks was in
disorder there was order amongst the men, and no flinching. Already
the surgeon's mates and helpers were carrying the wounded away
towards the ladder leading to the cockpit, while at every gun stood
its crew, immovable and ready, waiting the word of the officer. As
for the enemy, the shapely lines of the French man-of-war had changed
wonderfully, for she was so near now that one could see distinctly.
The white deck, still careened towards the frigate, was seamed and
scarred and torn. One mast lay over her rail, the sails towing in
the water, and her sides were marked by shot holes, two of her ports
having been converted into one by an enormous rent that extended
between them.

A dull cheer resounded through the frigate; the men in the 'tween
decks took it up lustily, and then came again that commotion above.
The vessel shivered, shot and flame and smoke belched from the ports
on the upper deck, the roar being followed once again by the rumble
of gun wheels on their metal runners.

"Fire!" Mr. Riley stood halfway up the ladder leading to the upper
deck and waved his cocked hat at the crews under his own command.
Crash! went the broadside. Tom watched the powder at the vent squirt
upward in flame and smoke as on a previous occasion, and then sprang
to the cables as Jim's husky voice called to his own crew to draw the
gun in and reload.

[Illustration: "CRASH! WENT THE BROADSIDE"]

"Double shot; don't forget," bellowed Mr. Riley, and obedient to the
order the loaders thrust first one and then a second huge iron ball
into the gaping muzzles. In the middle of the operation there came
a resounding discharge from the enemy, while huge columns of smoke
hid her sides. But the shot failed to strike the frigate, for a few
seconds earlier the commander had put his helm up and had sheered
off towards the Frenchman. It was a clever manoeuvre, and made a
wonderful difference to the fight in progress. For the enemy had
received four successive broadsides now, and had returned only one
effective one, and that not so effective as it might have been had
the ships been nearer. Added to that, it was less than five minutes
later when the gunners on the port side got their sights aligned on
the enemy, and a simultaneous broadside was delivered by the guns of
the upper and 'tween decks. Then the commander swung his helm again
and made across the stern of the Frenchman.

"Stand ready," sang out Mr. Riley again, his eyes glued upon the
man-of-war. "Layers concentrate on the stern. In one minute, men; in
one minute we shall be there. Now! Fire!"

Running round in a circle after crossing in the wake of the
Frenchman, the frigate had gone about after emptying her complete
port broadside, and had then swept round in rear of the enemy.
It was a manoeuvre which, if not quickly carried out, might have
ended in disaster. But nothing occurred to disturb it, while the
Frenchman, impeded by his broken mast and the sail dragging in
the water--and slowed considerably thereby--was unable to counter
the movement by swinging also. It followed, therefore, that the
frigate had an enormous advantage, and, making the most of this,
crossed and recrossed the rear of the enemy, emptying first the
starboard broadside and then every gun on the port side. As for the
French battleship, her guns were useless. Not one of her broadsides
could be brought to bear, and though she sheered off to the south
a little, the commander was at once able to alter his own position
correspondingly.

"It's a victory," said Jim, with elation. "The man that laid the
gun that brought down that mast deserves to be made an admiral this
minute. It's saved lives aboard this ship, boys. It's won the battle."

"Shall we board her now?" asked Tom, who was densely ignorant of
naval matters.

"Board her! Not us!" cried Jim. "Where's the use? She carries two or
three men to every man jack of us, and would have all the chances
if we boarded, not that I say as we wouldn't do the business. But
we've the best of it like this. She's cut that mast adrift, but
it'll be hours before she can refit, and meanwhile we've the legs of
her. We've only to keep here, astern, plugging shot into her all the
while, and she's bound to give in before long. Of course she can't do
that yet awhile. That wouldn't be fighting, and I'm bound to say that
the Frenchies are good at the game, almost as good as we are. She'll
hold on and endeavour to best us; but she'll have to haul down her
colours before very long. Ah! What'd I say? Look at 'em!"

The flag of France flying aloft on the enemy was seen to flutter. It
dropped a foot or two and then came down with a run. Instantly a
hoarse bellow resounded through the frigate. Men gripped hands and
cheered, the shouts coming from every deck. Even the wounded, who had
not all been removed, sat up with an effort and cheered as best they
could.

"Silence, men," came from Mr. Riley at this moment, and turning they
saw him standing halfway up the ladder, bent so that the men could
see his face. "Stand to your guns all the while; don't draw charges
till you get the order. Jim there, from No. 4 gun, send me four of
your men to join the boarding party."

Tom noticed that the officer had been wounded, for he carried one arm
in a sling, and there were stains of blood on his breeches. He was
wondering how he had come by the wound, when Jim struck him heavily
on the back.

"Avast dreamin' there, me hearty," he shouted hoarsely, still elated
at what had happened. "Get off to the officer and go aboard the ship.
You'll see something to interest you."

Tom wanted no more coaxing; he dropped the cable on which he had been
hauling and went at a run towards the ladder, followed by the other
men. They kept close on the heels of Mr. Riley, and in a twinkling
were on the main deck. There the commander was now stationed, and
about him a group of officers and men.

"Ah, there you are, Mr. Riley!" he exclaimed. "We'll go aboard in the
cutter, taking three men from each deck. Step in, my lads."

Tom scrambled into the boat with the crew, and watched as it was
lowered away. He was filled with amazement, first that a boat of such
proportions as the cutter could support so many men when hung to her
davits, and then that she could be safely lowered with such a load to
the water. Meanwhile he noticed the high sides of the frigate, the
officer up on the quarterdeck, and the men of the watch away aloft in
the rigging. The frigate lay inert, her sails flapping, while, almost
a quarter of a mile away now, the French ship lay in the water,
slowly heaving up and down, with a peculiar and significant twist in
one of her masts.

"Struck by our broadsides as we passed and repassed," Mr. Riley told
him as they were lowered away, for the officer happened to be close
to our hero. "She had bad luck. It's rare that one brings down a mast
at the first discharge, and that of course proved her undoing; the
loss of the second makes her useless for fighting purposes. This has
been a gallant action and will give us no end of credit. Ah, there
goes a recall gun!"

A spout of flame and smoke belched from the frigate a little above
the heads of the men in the cutter, for the latter had now reached
the water, and turning his head Tom watched the ball discharged
strike the sea some two hundred yards ahead of the small sloop that
had been sailing in company of the battleship, and which had now
changed her course.

"She'll not disobey the order," reflected Mr. Riley. "Once we are
aboard the enemy the frigate could sink that vessel within ten
minutes. There go her sails aback; she'll swing round and come in
like a docile dog. Now, lad, clamber aboard when we reach the ship;
you come as one of my escort."

"You're wounded, sir," said Tom. "Let me fasten that sling for you
again; it's too long, and doesn't support the arm."

He undid the knot with the help of fingers and teeth and then
rearranged the sling. By the time he had finished they were under the
counter of the French battleship, to which a man at the stern and
bows of the cutter clung with a boathook. At once a midshipman sprang
at a dangling rope ladder and went swarming up with the agility of a
monkey, two of the crew following. Tom picked up a coil of rope and
without a question made a noose fast round the waist of the officer
who had already befriended him.

"I'll get aboard and help to haul you up, sir," he said. "You'd never
manage to clamber up that ladder with one arm wounded."

He waited for no orders, but, springing at the ladder, went
scrambling up, the end of the rope secured between his teeth. A
minute later Mr. Riley was being hoisted to the deck of the French
battleship. Then the commander followed, and after him more of the
crew, with two officers.

Tom found himself looking down upon a scene which was almost
indescribable; for the ship had been cruelly mauled by the broadsides
of the frigate. There were a dozen holes in her deck, where shot
had penetrated, while in many places the rails were driven in. A
dismounted gun lay in one of the scuppers, with part of her crew
crushed beneath it; and from end to end of the ship there were
signs of the awful havoc the iron tempest had created. Men lay in
all directions and in all postures. The damaged mast swung by the
starboard halyards and threatened to fall inboard at any moment,
while a huge stretch of crumpled and shot-holed canvas covered one
portion of the deck. To add to the scene of ruin, smoke and flames
were belching from a hatch towards the stern of the quarterdeck, and
some fifty sailors were endeavouring to quench the conflagration
with water cast from buckets. Almost opposite the spot where the
ladder dangled, and where the victors had come aboard, was a group of
officers, and in their centre one seated on a chair, pallid to the
lips and obviously wounded. The commander went towards him instantly
and took him by the hand.

"You are hurt?" he asked. "You have fought your ship gallantly, but
fortune was against you. Go to your quarters, please. I will take no
sword from an officer of such courage."

He put aside the sword that was offered him so feebly, and signed to
men of his crew to lift the injured officer. Then he shook hands with
the other Frenchmen present, many of whom shed tears as they replaced
their swords in their scabbards.

"Ah, monsieur," said one, who seemed to be the second in command, "it
was the fortune of war, but bad fortune for us. With that mast shot
away we were helpless, and then your broadsides poured into our stern
tore the lengths of the decks, and did terrible damage. Our poor
fellows were shot down in heaps. War, monsieur, is a terror."

None could fail to admit that who visited the French ship, for what
had been a well-found, trim vessel was now a shambles. It turned Tom
sick and faint when he looked about him, so that he was forced to
cling to the rail. But a moment later, when Mr. Riley called him, he
was able to pull himself together.

"We're to go aboard the sloop and see what she is," he called. "Help
to lower me into the cutter."

Half an hour later Tom clambered up the side of the smaller vessel,
and hauled his officer up after him. They found a French midshipman
in command of a crew of five, while beneath the hatches there were
three prisoners.

"Release them," Mr. Riley ordered; and, taking a couple of the French
crew with him, Tom saw the hatch lifted, and called to the men below
to come up. The smart uniform of an officer showed through the square
hatch at once, and in a moment or two a youth stood on the deck
before him, whom one would have said was British to the backbone.

"Ensign Jack Barwood, 60th Rifles, sir," he reported, drawing
himself up in front of Mr. Riley and saluting. "Going out to join my
regiment, this little sloop in which I had taken passage was held up
by a French man-of-war. Our men were taken off, that is, the crew.
I and two of my own men were left here as prisoners. We heard heavy
firing, and guessed there was an action. What has happened?"

Mr. Riley turned and pointed at the French prize won by the frigate.
"We beat her," he said, with pride in his tones. "You've had luck to
escape so early from a French prison. Where were you bound for?"

"In the first place, Oporto," came the answer. "Later, as a prisoner,
for Bayonne. Now, I suppose, we shall have to return to England?"

As it turned out, however, it was to Oporto that the little sloop
made.

"The frigate makes for home at once," Mr. Riley reported, when he had
rowed back to the ship, and had again come out to the sloop. "She
sails in company with her prize, and no doubt the homecoming will be
a fine triumph. I have orders to take this sloop to Oporto, there to
hand over this young fellow to the authorities."

He pointed to Tom and smiled, while the ensign, turning upon
our hero, surveyed him with amazement, and with some amount of
superciliousness if the truth be told.

"Pardon, sir," he said, "I don't understand."

"Of course not," came the smiling answer; "nor does he. Come here,
Tom."

Our hero, as may be imagined, was just as dumbfounded as the ensign;
for though Mr. Riley had been wonderfully kind to him from the
beginning, his manner had suddenly changed. He addressed him as if
he were an equal, not as if he were one of the crew.

"I'll explain," he smiled, seeing the bewilderment expressed by both
young fellows. "While the action was passing between us and the
man-of-war our lookouts reported a sail in the offing. She has come
up to us since, and turns out to be a smaller frigate than ourselves.
But the point is this--she left the Thames after us, and has
carried a brisk breeze with her all the way. She asked at once for
information concerning a young fellow brought aboard just before we
weighed, who had been impressed by a gang having quarters near London
Bridge. That, sir, is the young fellow."

He pointed at Tom, whom the ensign still regarded in amazement.

"The whole thing has been cleared up, of course," said Mr. Riley.
"There is no longer any doubt that this gentleman is the son of Mr.
Septimus John Clifford, wine merchant, of London Bridge."

"Eh?" suddenly interjected the ensign, staring hard at Tom.
"Clifford, of London Bridge. Well, I'm bothered! Why, Tom, don't you
know me?"

It must be confessed that our hero was somewhat taken aback. In this
young officer so much above himself, clad in the handsome uniform
of the 60th Rifles, he had not recognized an old friend. Indeed his
attention had been centred on his own officer. But now, when Jack
Barwood lifted his cap, Tom recognized him at once, and gave vent to
a shout of delight.

"Why, it's you!" he cried, gripping the hand extended. "Haven't seen
you since--now when did we meet last?"

"Time you licked that cub of a grocer's boy," laughed Jack, who
seemed to be just such another as our hero, and who was evidently a
jovial fellow. "He passed when we were with your cousin, and grinned
and sauced you. You were at him in a jiffy."

Mr. Riley laughed loudly when he heard what was passing. "Why, he's
been at one of our men aboard the frigate," he cried. "Hammered him
badly just before we fell in with the Frenchman. He's a tiger."

"He's a demon to fight, is Tom, sir," laughed Jack. "Ask him how we
became acquainted."

"Eh? How?" asked the officer curiously, and then pressed the question
when he saw that Tom had gone a crimson colour and was looking
sheepish. "Eh?" he repeated.

"He's pretending to have forgotten," shouted Jack, enjoying the
situation. "I'll tell the tale. It was at school one day. Tom was
chewing toffee, mine had disappeared from a pocket. I tackled him
with the theft, and we went hammer and tongs for one another. It was
a busy time for us for some ten minutes."

"Ah!" smiled Mr. Riley. "Who won?"

"Drawn battle," exclaimed Tom, somewhat sulkily.

"I had a licking," laughed Jack. "It was a certainty for him from the
beginning."

"Not surprised," came from the officer. "And the toffee?"

"Eh?" asked Jack.

"The toffee you accused him of stealing?" asked Mr. Riley. "You found
it later?"

"In another pocket--yes," admitted Jack, with a delightful grin.
"I deserved that hiding; it made us fast friends. So Tom's been
impressed."

"By the machinations of his cousin."

That caused Tom to lift his head and come nearer. He had wondered
time and again how that impressment had been brought about, whether
by accident or design, and had never been able to bring himself to
believe that José was responsible. Mr. Riley's words made him open
his ears.

"You are sure, sir?" he asked.

"The commander has letters from your father with positive proof.
However, things seemed to have happened fortunately. You are to be
taken to Oporto after all, and here you meet with an old friend.
Things couldn't have been better. Now I shall leave you both aboard
while I go to get together a crew. We'll set a course for Oporto when
I return, and ought to reach the place inside the week. Tom, you'll
no longer be a sailor before the mast. I have the commander's orders
to take you as a passenger, or, if you wish it, to appoint you an
officer for the time being. How's that?"

It was all delightful hearing; and when at length the sloop turned
her bows for Oporto, leaving the frigate to sail away with her
prize, and incidentally to carry Tom's letter to his father in
England, the party aboard the little vessel could not have been
merrier.

"You'll have to turn soldier yet," declared Jack to our hero,
standing so that the latter could inspect his uniform, and indeed the
young fellow cut such a neat figure that Tom was even more tempted
than formerly. For Jack was slimmer and shorter than he, while the
few months of training he had experienced had taught him to hold
himself erect. A jollier and more careless ensign never existed. It
can be said with truth that, had the fortunes of the troops in the
Peninsula depended on Jack's wisdom and military knowledge, disaster
would promptly have overtaken our arms. He was just one of those
jolly, inconsequential sort of fellows, always skylarking, always gay
and laughing, who go through the world as if serious subjects were
not in existence.

"Hooray for the life of a soldier!" he shouted, knowing Tom's ardent
wishes that way, and anxious to fill him with envy. "Who'd ever sit
on a stool and sweat over books in an office?"

"I'll lick you if you don't stop short," growled Tom sourly, and yet
laughing for all that; for who could take Jack seriously? "Who knows,
I may be a leader of troops before you have cut your wisdom teeth?
Who knows?"

Who could guess the future indeed? Not Tom. Not the jovial,
thoughtless Jack. Not even the wise Mr. Riley, with all his
experience of the sea and of the men who go upon it. It seemed that
Oporto would receive them in the course of a few days, and that
Jack and Tom would there part. But within twenty-four hours of that
conversation the scene was changed. Two vessels raised their peaks
from the offing, and, sailing nearer, declared themselves as French.
They overhauled the little sloop, in spite of a spread of canvas that
threatened to press her beneath the water. And that evening Tom and
his companions were prisoners.

"My uncle! What awful luck!" groaned Jack, in the depths of despair,
as is often the case with high-mettled people when reverses come
along. "No soldiering, Tom; no office for you. I'd prefer that to a
prison."

"It's the fortune of war," exclaimed Mr. Riley with resignation. "For
me it makes no great difference. The wound I received aboard the
frigate has not improved, and, even if I become a prisoner, I shall
receive proper treatment, which is impossible aboard this sloop. I'm
sorry for you two young fellows."

"Pooh, sir," smiled Tom, "we'll give 'em the slip! Seems to me I'm
not meant for Oporto yet awhile. We'll give 'em the slip, and then
I'll take on as a soldier."

"Slip? How?" asked Jack, somewhat staggered, for the idea had not
occurred to him.

"Depends; couldn't say now how we'll bring it about. But we'll manage
it some way. I speak Spanish and Portuguese and a little French. If
with those advantages we can't manage the business, well, we're only
fit for a prison."

"Hooray!" shouted the excited Jack; whereat one of the French
officers accosted them angrily. But Tom quickly appeased him.

"Where do we get landed, _Monsieur le Lieutenant_?" he asked politely.

"Ah, you speak our tongue! That is good," came the more pleasant
answer. "But where you land I cannot say; you will be sent with
troops to the north of Spain, and so to a prison."

It was not very cheering news, but Tom made the best of it.

"I don't put my nose into a French prison if I can help it!" he
declared, in that particular tone of voice to which Jack had grown
accustomed when they were chums at school.

"And he won't!" declared the latter. "I know Tom well--a pig-headed,
stubborn beggar from his cradle. Tom'll give 'em the slip, and we
with him. One thing seems all right in the meanwhile--there's grub
and drink in plenty. I never could stand starvation; I'd rather go to
prison."

But whatever thoughts they may have had as regards escaping were set
aside when they landed. Putting in at an obscure port, Tom and his
friends found a squadron of horsemen waiting to receive them, for the
ship had flown signals. The three friends, together with the two men
belonging to Jack's regiment, were given horses, while a trooper
took their reins, two other men riding close to each one of them. And
then they set off across a barren country, which, however fair it may
have been in other days, was burned black, stripped of all eatables,
while those villages which had not been swallowed by the flames were
wrecked and useless.

"You will be careful not to attempt an escape," said the officer
in command of the squadron, speaking to Tom, the only one of the
prisoners who could understand him. "I have given orders for the
troopers to shoot at the first attempt. We ride now to join our main
army, and through a country inhabited by people who would flay us
alive if they could catch us. Let that alone warn you not to attempt
escape. The Portuguese peasants are more dangerous than my soldiers."

He shouted to the head of the column, set his own horse in motion,
and led the way at a pace that threatened to be trying. It was
obvious, in fact, that he was anxious to reach the summit of the
hills near at hand, and not to be found in the open when night fell.
As for Tom and his friends, the outlook seemed hopeless; an attempt
at escape meant a bullet from their guard. And, even were they
successful, they were in a country where bands of peasants scoured
the valleys murdering all who were too weak to oppose them. It looked
indeed as if a French prison would shortly shelter them, and as if
there Jack's military career would come to a halt before it had
actually begun, while Tom's ambitions in that direction would be cut
in twain and end only in bitter disappointment.



CHAPTER V

Prisoners


If ever a band of prisoners could be described as jovial it was
the little band with whom Tom Clifford was travelling. For the
confinement at sea made a trip ashore most enchanting; then the quick
and unaccustomed movement, the efforts more than one of them were
forced to make continually to keep in their saddles, provoked an
amount of amusement which even infected their escort.

"I was as near off as anything that time," shouted the irrepressible
Jack, when his horse had shied at a rock and nearly thrown him. "Wish
one of these fellows would rope me to the saddle instead of leading
me as if I were a child."

"What does he say, monsieur?" asked the trooper riding near our hero,
and at once Tom explained.

"That would not be good for him," laughed the man. "If we have to
gallop at any time, and the horse fell, he would be left to be
butchered. I tell you, monsieur, these peasants are terrible. I do
not say that they are not justified, for our men have behaved cruelly
to them. But the peasants care nothing whether it be horse soldiers
or foot. If a man of ours falls into their hands he is butchered;
that would be your fate also if you were to lag behind."

Every now and again, as the small party made for the hills, groups of
men were seen hovering in the distance. And once, when the squadron
was riding through a narrow defile, rocks descended from above.

"Gallop!" commanded the officer, and striking their heels into the
flanks of the horses the soldiers soon passed through. When the dusk
of evening began to fall, shots rang out in the distance, and one of
the troopers was wounded.

"I see men gathering in front of us," suddenly exclaimed one of the
sergeants. "They fill the gap through which we must pass to gain the
road for the hill."

"Halt!" came from the commander. "Place the prisoners in the centre.
We will ride forward steadily till within shot of them, and then
we will charge. There is nothing else to be done. To retreat would
be to have the whole population of the country about us to-morrow;
monsieur," he said, as if by an afterthought; "you and your comrades
realize the danger?"

Tom nodded at once. "We see the position, _Monsieur le Capitaine_,"
he said. "You are a detached party away from the army."

"We are one of hundreds of squadrons told off to clear the country
during the retreat of our armies across the Tagus," came the answer.
"From to-day we march for Spain, and I hope we may never put foot in
Portugal again. It is not a pleasant duty, this burning of villages
and crops, but orders must be obeyed. We are detached, as you say,
and to join our friends we have to run the gauntlet. Monsieur and his
friends can have temporary liberty, and arms with which to fight, if
they will give their word of honour to respect me and my men, and
hand themselves over later on as captives to us."

"I will speak with my friends," replied Tom at once, overjoyed at
the proposal; for he could see easily that there was a strenuous
time before the little party, and in the event of a reverse to the
troopers the position of himself and his friends might be very
serious. Armed and ready they would be in a different position.
Rapidly, therefore, he explained the position to Mr. Riley.

"Agreed!" cried the latter eagerly. "Not that I'm much use either
way. It takes me all my time to stick to this animal, let alone use
a weapon; for I have only one useful arm. Tell him we agree. You
men,"--and he swung round on Andrews and Howeley, the two men of
the 60th accompanying them, "you men understand the position, no
doubt. We are fighting for the Portuguese, and against the French;
but here is a case where our friends will not know us. They will
kill us with the others before we can explain. It is a question of
self-preservation."

"Right, sir," answered Andrews cheerily. "We're game, and though
it'll be hard luck to have to become prisoners again, we see the
reason. We give our word."

"Good, then," exclaimed the officer of the party with relief, and at
once gave orders to his troopers to throw off the leading reins, and
to hand each of the prisoners a sabre. To Mr. Riley he presented a
pistol.

"For you, monsieur," he bowed. "If there is need, you will know how
to use it. Now, men," he commanded, "we will ride forward in column
of files, and when I shout, spread out into line. A charge should
carry us through them. Gallop right through the village and up the
road. Forward!"

Nowhere, perhaps, were there finer troopers to be found than those
in the French army invading the Peninsula. Napoleon had, in fact,
swamped the country with divisions of magnificent cavalry, with
numerous veterans in the ranks, and under leaders skilled in cavalry
work who had taken their squadrons into action many and many a
time, and had won victories. The preceding years of this eventful
campaign in the Peninsula had seen detached parties of French
horsemen penetrating far into country held by Wellington's troops,
or by Spanish or Portuguese irregulars; and while the former had
taught them many a lesson, and had, indeed, shown the French troops
that if they were brave, the lads from England were equal to them,
there is little doubt that, just as Wellington and our armies had
learned to despise the Portuguese irregulars, and those of Spain in
particular, the French held them even more in contempt. It was the
detached bands of guerrillas, however, that did them the greatest
injury. No wandering party of horsemen could bivouac without fear
of having sentries and outposts murdered in the night. Sudden and
ferocious attacks were frequent, and at this time, when the French
were retreating before our armies, and when without shadow of doubt
they had treated the Portuguese peasantry and townspeople with
horrible cruelty, a detached squadron such as the one Tom accompanied
was liable to annihilation unless handled with great skill. However,
this squadron in particular and its officer seemed to make light of
the difficulties before them. They were accustomed to the hatred of
the peasants, accustomed also to see them take to their heels when
they charged, and disappear in their mountains. It was, therefore,
with a cheer, in which Tom and his friends joined, that they jogged
forward in column of file, their sabres drawn and ready, their leader
a horse's length in advance of them.

Tom rose in his stirrups and surveyed the enemy. Even through the
gloom he could see that there must be two hundred at least gathered
at the entrance of the village through which the squadron must pass
to reach the road to the heights. Shots came from the mass every now
and again, while there were red flashes from the buildings. Shrill
cries of rage and hate reached his ears, and amongst the voices he
could distinguish those of women.

Phit! Phit! Bullets whizzed overhead, while the trooper next to him
suddenly gave vent to a growl of anger.

"Struck me in the arm, monsieur," he said, after a few moments. "I
would rather far receive a wound in proper battle than from these
wolves. But you will see; they will scatter as we charge. We shall
cut down a few of the laggards, burn the village, and thus light our
way to the mountains. Poof! The Portuguese are brutes, the Spaniards
are gentlemen beside them."

That was the way in which the French looked at the nations in the
Peninsula. Truth compels us to admit that they had reason for liking
the Spaniards; for not only were they able to play with them as if
they were children, utterly despising them as soldiers, but also they
obtained real help from them in their campaign, and though England
had sent troops to repel the invader, and to help the Spaniards
as well as the Portuguese to rid their country of oppression, yet
throughout the campaign the Spaniards in particular foiled the wishes
of Wellington and his generals in every direction. They withheld
supplies even from the wounded. They parted with nothing save at an
exorbitant price, and always there were traitors amongst them ready
to disclose our plans to the enemy. The Portuguese, too, were not
guiltless in this matter; but, on the whole, their irregulars did
some excellent work, and they at least made an attempt to help the
British to drive Napoleon and his armies out of the Peninsula.

"Canter!" the command rang out loudly as a wide splash of flame
came from the peasants, while bullets clipped the air, sang shrilly
overhead, and sometimes hit horses or accoutrements. Tom heard a
sharp metallic sound, and lost a stirrup, shot away by one of these
bullets; but he managed to secure it again, though he was no great
horseman.

"Form line on the left!" The command rang out, while answering howls
and shouts came from the village. "Charge!"

Tom could see the commander standing in his stirrups, his sword
raised overhead, his face turned towards his men. And that
exhilarating shout, the excitement in the air, the bullets and the
cries, sent his blood surging through him. Let us remember that Tom
was young, and possessed of excellent health and spirits, also that
soldiering was no new ambition with him. Fear for the future he
had none, but all the while he was wondering how the matter would
progress, and what would happen supposing the villagers held their
ground and refused to be driven from the village. The hammer of the
horses' hoofs, the jingle of bits and stirrups, and the sharp reports
of muskets sent a thrill through his frame from head to foot, and in
a moment he was leaning forward like the troopers, his sabre down
over his knee, all eagerness to reach the enemy. Nor was it long
before the squadron got to striking distance. The peasants held their
ground till the horses were fifty paces away, and then raced into the
houses. A storm of bullets came from windows and doorways, and then,
of a sudden, there was a clatter in front, and the commander of the
squadron disappeared from view entirely. By then Tom was within ten
paces of him; for the formation had brought him to the very centre.

"Halt!" he bellowed, seeing what had happened. "The road is blocked.
The peasants have dug a huge ditch, and the commander has gone into
it. Here--hold my horse!"

He flung the reins to a trooper riding at his knee, and slid to
the ground. A moment later he was down in the rough and deep ditch
which the peasants had made ready, and leaning over the unfortunate
commander of the squadron found that he was dead.

"_Il est mort!_" he shouted to the troopers, making his way back to
his horse at once.

"Monsieur, this is terrible!" cried the trooper who had held the
reins. "We are being shot down rapidly, and nothing is being done
to help us. The captain is dead and his lieutenant; I think the
sergeants are also hurt."

The engagement, so far as the squadron was concerned, had indeed come
to a curious and dangerous halt. The troopers sat bunched together,
some of the men reining their horses back as if about to flee. Yet
no order came. There was no one to give the word of command. It was
then that Tom showed the stuff of which he was made. It is true Mr.
Riley should perhaps have come to the fore, or Jack; but neither
could speak the language, while, in any case, it was the duty of one
of the troopers to conduct the action. However, when no one comes
forward, and men are being shot down rapidly, it is clear that he who
takes command on his shoulders, and acts wisely, is a blessing to his
comrades. Jack took the post without a thought. To sit still longer
was madness, and quite impossible.

"Wheel about," he shouted in French. "Ah, they have closed in on us!
We are caught between two fires. Forward, men, charge!"

He led them at the enemy at full gallop; but what could fifty men do
against some hundreds? It happened that this squadron of horse had
been watched by the peasants, and for two days past efforts had been
made to surround it. The wild inhabitants of this mountainous region,
burning with hatred of the invader, had been brought together, and
gradually, as the horsemen retreated from the coast and got into
difficult country, the net had been drawn about them. There were
perhaps five hundred peasants in rear of the party when Tom faced
them about and charged. A crashing discharge of musketry swept
the ranks of the troopers, dropping a dozen of the men from their
saddles, and then began a rush on the part of the enemy. It looked,
indeed, as if the remnant would be annihilated, and slashed to pieces
where they stood. Tom looked anxiously and swiftly about him, and
perceiving a building on the outskirts of the village, a little to
one side, he instantly decided to occupy it.

"Right wheel!" he shouted. "Now gallop to that building. If the door
is big enough, and we can open it, ride right in. Forward! Clear the
rabble coming towards us."

It happened that another section of the circle was approaching the
scene of the action from the direction of the building towards which
he and the troopers were now making, and these at once opened fire.
But Tom set heels to his horse, and in a minute he and the men
supporting him burst amongst the peasants, slashing at them to right
and left, riding them down, and scattering them in every direction.
It was exciting work while it lasted, and it had the effect of
allowing the party a little breathing time. They rode up to the door
of the building, to find it was a church, and in a twinkling the door
was open. Up the five steps leading to it rode Tom, and after him
came his comrades.

"Dismount," he commanded. "Draw your carbines and scatter about the
place, to make sure that no windows or doors are open. Two of you
stand guard over the horses."

It was pitch dark within the church; but a trooper quickly discovered
a torch, and then some candles stored away in a box.

"It won't do to keep them burning," said Tom, thinking rapidly. "The
light would help the enemy to shoot us; but we must have something
with which to inspect the place. Ah, I know--Andrews!"

"Yes, sir?"

The big rifleman was standing stiffly at attention before Tom, his
arm at the salute.

"Take the torch and this trooper with you. Go round; return when you
have inspected, and report."

The soldier saluted again with as much briskness as he would have
displayed had Tom been a regular officer, and went away with one of
the troopers whom Tom called.

"Howeley!" he shouted.

"Sir?"

Like Andrews, the man was drawn up with the rigidity of a bayonet.

"Collect all ammunition, place it in a central position, and dish it
out ten rounds at a time. Report the total amount."

"Yes, sir."

The fine fellow went off like a rocket to perform the task, while Tom
called to the troopers.

"My lads," he shouted, "let us be silent; I have sent a man to
inspect the place, and will post you all presently. Another will
collect the ammunition, and give it out ten rounds at a time. Don't
forget that we may be held up here for hours, and our lives will
depend on the amount of cartridges we have. Now, I want two of you
for another purpose."

Two men at once came forward. "We are ready, monsieur," one of them
said. "For the moment we and our comrades look to you as the leader.
Indeed you are a leader; but for your quickness and decision we
should be back there at the entrance to the village shot down beside
our comrades."

"Then collect all saddle bags," said Tom, "pile them in a corner,
and with them all water bottles. They are the most important. I'm
not afraid of starvation; for we have horses here, and one of them
slaughtered will provide us with ample food. It is the water that is
important; see to it, please."

It was perhaps some ten minutes later that the defences of the church
were ready. Tom busied himself posting men at all vulnerable spots,
and then clambered into the tower with Andrews. It was quite a modest
erection, some fifty feet in height, but sufficient to give a view
over the village. Lights could be seen in many directions, while
shouts echoed through the air. There was the tramp of feet also, and
a dull mass over at the entrance to the village.

"They're gloating over the poor chaps they shot and knocked out of
their saddles, sir," said Andrews. "It was sharp business; I was
never in a brisker, and I've done two years of the campaign already.
Came out in 1808, sir, and went home wounded. Beg pardon, sir, but
what might your corps be?"

"Corps? Corps?" exclaimed Tom, mystified for the moment. "Oh, I
follow! I'm not in the army, Andrews. I was on my way out to Oporto,
or, more correctly, I was going to sail for that place when I was
impressed and sent aboard a British frigate. We had that action with
the French man-of-war, and you were released. News had come out to
the frigate, meanwhile, that I ought never to have been impressed,
and so the captain sent me on in the sloop to Oporto. By rights I
ought to be seated at a desk adding up long, dry columns."

Andrews gave vent to a gruff expression. "Strike me!" he cried, as
if dumbfounded by the information; "and I and Howeley and all them
French boys took you for an orficer. Anyways, sir, beggin' your
pardon, you've done handsomely. It was a lucky thing for us that you
took the command, for Mr. Barwood ain't fit for it. He got knocked
out by the first bullet almost, and it was as much as he could do
to stick to his saddle till we reached here. Mr. Riley ain't no
better. If Howeley hadn't held him he'd have been left outside to be
murdered. This here's a tough little business."

It proved, in fact, a fortunate thing for all concerned that Tom
had taken the command. There are some who might express the opinion
that he should not have done so, that it displayed an uppish spirit.
Granted all that; but uppishness is just what is required in moments
of stress and danger. The lad who is modest at all times, and yet who
can come to the fore when circumstances urgently call for a leader,
is a lad of the right sort, a benefactor to his comrades. In this
case Tom had undoubtedly done the right thing, and, moreover, had
done it well.

"It was real smart," said Andrews respectfully. "Beggin' pardon
again, sir; there's many who would have been cornered. To go forward
was impossible, to retreat out of the question, seeing as there
were three hundred or more of the ruffians behind us. This was the
only course. It's queer to think that we, who are fighting for the
Portuguese against the French, should be boxed up here in danger of
having our throats slit by those who ought to be friends."

"It's the fortune of war, Andrews," declared Tom. "I'm sorry for the
wretches outside. By all accounts the French hate them intensely, for
the Portuguese have shown more spirit than have the Spanish. They
have contested the rights of the invaders from the beginning, and
as a result the French have burned their villages and treated them
badly. Indeed I believe they have behaved with the grossest cruelty.
As a result there are reprisals, and we are swept up in one of these,
and are likely to have a warm time of it before we are free."

"It's bound to be an ugly business," admitted Andrews. "I can hear
them coming now."

"Then we'll go to the men," said Tom. "I'll give them orders not to
fire till I tell them. Of course I shall make an attempt to win over
the peasants."

"Eh? How's that, sir?" asked Andrews. "What about their lingo?"

"You forget I was meant for Oporto. I and my family have had
associations with Portugal and Spain for a long while, and my cousins
are Spanish. I speak both languages, but not well, I fear. I always
hated lessons, and now wish to goodness I had been a little more
diligent. However, I can make myself understood easily, and will try
to win the peasants over."

They clambered down the long, rough ladder that led from the belfry,
and went amongst the men, Tom warning all of them to hold their fire
till he shouted. Meanwhile Howeley had reported to him that there
was ammunition sufficient to supply each man with forty-two rounds.
As for food and drink, to his dismay he was informed that there was
little of either; so that it looked as if the contest could not last
for long.

"We've just twenty-two men all told, counting yourself and the other
officers," reported Andrews, some minutes later, saluting Tom as
if he had no doubt as to his position. "Every window and door is
guarded, and from what I can see of the troopers they are ready for
any fighting. It's queer to think that we who were prisoners are in
command, and no difficulty about it."

There was little doubt that the situation was more or less unique,
and caused Mr. Riley the utmost amusement. He, poor fellow, had been
struck in the ribs somewhat heavily, and lay in a corner, with Jack
close beside him; but he smiled when our hero at length had time to
approach him.

"My lad, you've done right well; you're a dead loss to the navy," he
smiled. "I'm not surprised; after what I saw aboard the frigate I
felt you would do something. Jack and I haven't worried you since we
got here, as we saw you wanted freedom to think and arrange matters;
but we're glad now that you're able to spare a few minutes. What will
happen?"

Tom stayed with them for a quarter of an hour, and now that he felt
that he had done all that was possible in arranging the defence, he
employed his wits and energies in seeing to his comrades. In the
case of Mr. Riley, he, with the help of Andrews and Howeley, bound
his chest very firmly with a couple of girths taken from the horses,
first of all, however, placing a pad over the wound, which was little
more than a contusion. For Jack equally simple surgery sufficed, for
a bullet had penetrated his thigh, and, the bleeding having stopped,
all that was wanted was a dressing and a bandage, and fortunately
the troopers carried these with them. They had hardly made him
comfortable when the lookout man posted in the tower reported that a
mass of men were coming.

"Remember--not a shot, my friends," Tom called out to the troops,
"and take care not to show a light. I will see to these people and
try to win them over."

He scrambled up an ancient flight of stone steps and passed on to
a ledge over the doorway, which, no doubt, served the purpose of
a pulpit in fine weather. There was a dull roar of voices coming
towards him, while the space between himself and the village seemed
to be filled with figures. Ten minutes later a mob had drawn up in
front of the church. Tom stood to his full height and hailed them.

"My friends," he shouted in Portuguese. "We are English!"

A fearful yell answered him. Shrieks of anger floated up to his ears,
while a hurricane of shots swept in his direction. Amidst the dancing
torches that many of the people carried there flashed out splashes
of flame. The vibrating roar of voices which followed had in it an
awe-inspiring note. Tom might have been on the verge of a rocky coast
on which huge breakers were thundering in their fury. That note spoke
of hatred, of an approaching triumph, of a horrible gloating on the
part of the peasants. It told better than individual words could do
what were the intentions of the enemy, what would be the fate of the
besieged if they fell into their hands. Then, of a sudden, catching a
better view perhaps of the solitary figure above them, the mob became
silent.

"My friends," called Tom, his tones clear, not a whimper in his
voice, "you have made an error. There are five Englishmen amongst
this party, five friends of the Portuguese. Let someone come forward
to identify us."

There might have been a mob of wild beasts outside by the answer. The
crowd, thinking no doubt that one of the Frenchmen was attempting to
fool them, and rob them of a prey they now counted upon as their own,
shrieked aloud and came surging forward. More shots rang out, stones
were thrown; and then, with a loud crash, the leaders came against
the door of the church. Tom clambered down to his men, stern and
pale and determined.

"Post three of them up on the ledge," he told Andrews, who was a
valuable help to him. "Let others fire through the windows when I
shout. Don't fire till then."

He repeated the words in French, and then waited till there came a
stunning blow upon the door, a blow which shook it to the hinges and
threatened to throw it down. It was clear, in fact, that the mob
outside were longing to get at the troopers. Shouts and oaths could
be heard, while the clatter of firearms was incessant.



CHAPTER VI

Napoleon the Ambitious


Within the village church in which the French troopers and their
one-time English prisoners had taken refuge under Tom Clifford's
guidance there was a deathly silence while the mob outside shrieked
and shouted. Not one of the defenders but knew what fate awaited them
if once the enemy beat in the doors, and knowing that they listened
as blow after blow thundered upon the woodwork, shaking the doors
till they threatened to fall down.

"Andrews," shouted Tom, who had been listening acutely like the
rest, and wondering what action he ought to take, "light up one of
the torches and take a couple of men with you. We want something to
place behind the doors, for in a little while they will be beaten in.
Meanwhile I will try again to pacify the peasants."

It was a forlorn hope, and yet worth trying. Tom, therefore,
clambered up the steep flight of stone steps again, while Andrews
went off to do his bidding. Stepping past the three men who had
ascended to the ledge above the crowd our hero once more stood
to his full height and shouted to attract the attention of the
peasants. And once more his coming was the signal for an outburst of
shouts, shrieks, groans, and hisses which might well have appalled
a brave man. Muskets flashed in the semi-darkness, for night had
now come, while here and there torches flamed over the heads of the
people. Bullets spattered and broke against the stonework about
him, thudding heavily, even splashing him with portions of lead.
One enthusiast, in fact, as if driven frantic by the sight of his
person, made a vain attempt to clamber up the ledge, and, missing his
footing, fell back upon the crowd, his coming setting rise to oaths
and shouts of anger. Then there fell a sudden silence while a brawny
giant, a blacksmith no doubt, stepped from under the archway of the
door, a huge hammer over his shoulder, showing that it was he who had
been delivering those smashing blows on the door.

"People of Portugal," Tom called out loudly, "I have come again to
speak to you. You fight with friends, not with enemies."

The howl that followed would have scared even a veteran.

"Friends! You say friends!" shouted the blacksmith, stepping still
farther out from the arch, while a couple of torches near him
illuminated his person. "Who are you that you should try to fool us?
We know our business well enough. For days we have watched this troop
of horse, and for days we have vowed to kill every man of them, to
kill them slowly if we may. Who are you, speaking our tongue, who
dare to say that you are friends?"

Shouts of applause greeted the words. An excited individual near the
speaker levelled a pistol and fired point-blank at Tom, narrowly
missing his head. Then once more there was silence. The crowd, in
fact, seemed to have realized their own power now, and knew well that
the church was surrounded. Eager though they were to slaughter the
troopers, they did not grudge a few moments' delay.

"Who are you?" they shouted hoarsely.

"I am English," answered Tom at once, "and so are four others amongst
us. We were being carried as prisoners."

"A lie!" came fiercely from someone in the crowd. "If he and the four
beside were prisoners, why then were they armed? Why did they fight
us at the entrance to the village?"

The argument was greeted with roars of applause again, which silenced
all Tom's efforts. Then the blacksmith held his hammer aloft to
command silence, and, having obtained it, seized a torch and held it
high up toward our hero.

"Listen, friends and brothers," he called in hoarse tones. "There is
one above who speaks our tongue and tells us that he and four others
are English and therefore friends. Good! Let us say that this is no
lie. There are four, while we are four hundred. Let these four, with
the one who speaks to us, come out from the church. If their tale
is true they shall live and we will feed and house them. If they
lie----"

The sentence was broken by discordant shouts of glee at the
blacksmith's wit, shouts that boded ill for anyone foolhardy enough
to place himself in the hands of such people, so roused by events,
and mad for slaughter, that they were incapable of recognizing friend
from foe.

"Let the five come out to us," shouted the blacksmith, "leaving the
others to be dealt with as we will."

Tom waited for the noise which followed to die down, and then bent
over the crowd. "What you ask is impossible," he said firmly. "I and
my English friends will not desert the troopers. But we are ready
to hand ourselves over to a body of English troops when you bring
them to us. To you we will not trust ourselves, and I warn you that
efforts on your part will lead to the death of many. Now, be wise;
reflect on the consequences and leave us alone."

Had he wished to stir the rage of the peasants Tom could not have
done it more effectually. Screams of rage filled the air, while a
torrent of bullets sped toward him. He stepped back from the ledge,
clambered down the stairs, and seized a carbine and ammunition.

"My friends," he said in French, "those wolves outside ask for our
lives. We will sell them dearly. Let each man fire the moment the
attack begins, remembering to make each shot tell, for ammunition is
very scarce. Ah, is that you, Andrews?"

"Yes, sir," came the answer, while the rifleman drew himself up
stiffly in front of our hero, a lighted torch still in one hand.
"There are pews, which we might break up," he reported; "but they're
light, too light to be of use in a doorway. But one of the horses is
dead, sir. If we were to pull him along here he'd make an obstacle
they'd have difficulty in moving."

"A horse!" the novel idea startled Tom. And then, on consideration,
it appeared that nothing could be better. At once he sent Andrews off
with four of the men to drag the animal towards the door, while he
himself took the candle, and, striding over to the pews that filled
the floor of the church, closely inspected them. A scheme for saving
ammunition was growing in his brain; for it was clear that if the
enemy persisted in an attack the wherewithal to load the muskets
would soon be expended.

"The doors will be broken down in no time," he told himself; "then we
shall be separated from the peasants merely by the barrier we happen
to place in position--a horse on this occasion. What we want is
something long with which to keep them at a distance."

Calling two of the troopers, he urged them to break up half a dozen
of pews as swiftly as possible, keeping the long timbers intact.

"Use your sabres," he said, "and when you have the timbers
separated, point them at one end. I want a couple of dozen spears
with which to fend off these peasants. Ah, there goes the hammer
again!"

A terrific blow resounded upon the door, which was followed almost
immediately by a sharp report from the ledge above, and then by a
howl. The blacksmith had not lived to see the triumph that he had
anticipated. One of the French troopers had leaned over and shot
him with his carbine. But the shot made little difference. A dozen
infuriated peasants sprang forward to seize the hammer, while shots
came from all directions. Then, amidst the sounds, steps were heard
on the narrow staircase leading from the ledge.

"Monsieur," said the man, running up to Tom, "there are men bringing
masses of straw to pile against the door. My comrades have discovered
a gallery leading from the ledge, with steps at the far end. There is
a large room also, and much building material there. It seems that at
one time the church was larger. Will monsieur sanction the tossing of
stones on the heads of the enemy?"

Tom nodded promptly, his features lighting up. By the aid of the
flickering torch the trooper was able to see that the young fellow
who had so suddenly taken command of the party was actually smiling.

"_Ma foi!_" he exclaimed _sotto voce_, "but the Englishman cares
nothing for this trouble! He is the one to lead."

"I will come up as soon as I am able," said Tom. "Meanwhile, do as
best you can. Toss anything on their heads, but, above all, save
ammunition."

The man was gone in a moment, while blows again sounded on the door,
one more violent than any which had preceded it shattering the upper
hinges. The shouts of triumph which burst from the peasants were
followed by a couple or more dull thuds, as if heavy bodies had
been dropped on the heads of the attackers, and then by a chorus
of shrieks denoting hatred and execration. Meanwhile a stir in the
church told of men struggling at some task, and presently Andrews
appeared with his helpers, and behind them the carcass of a horse.

"He fell dead in a hollow leading to a doorway," explained Andrews in
short gasps, "and to bring him here we had to drag him up a couple
of high steps. Once on the main floor of the church the carcass slid
easily enough; but earlier--my word it was hard work! There! the
carcass fills the lower part of the doorway, and as the legs are in
this direction those brutes will have nothing to take a grip of. What
orders, sir?"

"Pull the pews out of their places and pile them one on another round
the doorway," answered Tom, who had been sketching out his plans in
the meanwhile. "You and Howeley and two of the troopers will take
post on them a little to one side, and will fire into the crowd
once the doors give way. The other men will be below you, and I am
supplying them with spears made from the timbers of some of the
pews. You and they together should be able to keep the enemy off."

It may be imagined that each man amongst the defenders appointed
to some task had laboured at it with all haste, and by now the men
Tom had instructed to break up pews had almost finished their work.
Indeed, within a few minutes, and just before the doors were burst
in and fell over the carcass of the horse with a clatter, they had
produced more than a dozen long pieces of strong timber, each one
roughly hacked to a point at one end; and being some fifteen feet in
length these improvised spears promised to be of great service. In a
few seconds, in fact, they were put to a useful if somewhat unkind
purpose; for the fall of the doors was the signal for a mad rush on
the part of the peasants. The three or four hundred or more outside,
howling about the entrance to the church, launched themselves
promptly at the black void, where but a few moments before the flames
from the torches had shown doors. A hundred struggled to lead the
attackers where there was room only for half a dozen, and as a result
they came surging on in a compact mass, which threatened to push
the carcass of the horse aside as if it were a mere nothing. Then
wiser counsels prevailed. Elbow room was given to those in advance,
and soon shots were whistling through the doorway, while men armed
with sabres, with pitchforks, with scythes and every class of weapon
dashed up the steps and hurled themselves at the opening. Thud!
thud! the stones came from the ledge above, striking the peasants
down. The muskets wielded by Andrews and his comrades swept away the
more dangerous of the enemy--those provided with firearms--while
the troopers handling the long spears fashioned from pew timbers
made effective use of their weird weapons. They thrust them at the
enemy, giving terrible wounds. They beat them over the head till many
dropped, and then advancing a pace or two, so that their weapons
projected through the doorway over the carcass of the horse, they
drove the peasants away from the entrance altogether.

[Illustration: THE PEASANTS BREAK IN THE CHURCH DOORS]

"Stop firing!" shouted Tom, seeing that the peasants were retreating.

"We have taught them a sharp lesson, and that is enough for the
moment. We don't want to rouse their anger further, and will try to
show them that all we want is to be left alone, but that if they
attack us we are fully able to give hard knocks in return. Anyone
hurt?"

He repeated the words in French, and was relieved to hear that not
one of the men had received so much as a scratch.

"Then we are well out of the first attack. Now we'll eat," he said.
"We shall have to go on short rations without a doubt, and since that
can't be helped we must make the most of it."

Leaving a man still in the belfry, and one of the troopers on the
ledge, he posted two others at the rear of the church. Then he
and Andrews, with the help of two of the troopers, collected all
the rations contained in the saddle bags, divided them into four
portions, and finally issued a share of one portion to each one of
the defenders. Thereafter they sat in the darkness eating the food,
while, there being no news of the enemy, who seemed to have retired
to the village, some of the men went to sleep, while others lit pipes
and smoked contentedly. Tom sat down beside Mr. Riley and Jack, and
devoured his own meal with an avidity which showed that excitement
rather increased his appetite than the reverse.

"Splendidly managed, lad!" declared Mr. Riley, when he had finished
the meal. "Not the eating of your rations, but the defence. Dear,
dear, what a loss to the service!"

"Which service, sir?" asked Jack swiftly, for though wounded, and
more or less incapable, the old spirit was still there. There was,
in fact, a cheeky grin of enquiry on his somewhat pallid features,
a pallor made even more evident by the flickering flame of a torch
burning near the trio.

"Eh?" asked Mr. Riley, taken aback. "Which service? _The_ service, I
said."

"Army?" grinned Jack exasperatingly.

"I'll hammer you, my lad, when once you're fit," laughed the naval
officer. "As if anyone could misunderstand me! I say that _the_
service has lost a budding Nelson--a Nelson, Jack; as good a man as
ever trod a deck. Tom's a loss to the service, now isn't he?"

"Army; yes, sir," grinned Jack, rolling his eyes at the naval officer.

"Joking apart, though," said Mr. Riley, ignoring the fun of the
ensign, "Tom'll be a loss in an office. Just imagine our friend
perched on a high stool battling with facts and figures, when
he's shown he's capable of battling with people. Tom, I call it
a downright sin. If you were my brother I'd say 'Go hang' to the
office."

"Hear, hear!" cried Jack. "If Tom'd just give it up for a time and
come along with us, why, I'd----"

"You?" interrupted Mr. Riley, with a smile of incredulity; for though
Jack was undoubtedly dashing and gallant enough, he lacked the
stamina and serious thought of one who leads.

"I," repeated the incorrigible ensign, "_I_--with a capital to it,
please--I'd make the dear boy a general before he knew what was
happening."

There was a roar of laughter at that, a roar which brought the
troopers to a sitting posture, their fingers on their carbines. And
then a smile was exchanged amongst them.

"_Parbleu!_ but these English are proper fellows," said one to his
comrade. "They come to us as prisoners, and we see at once that they
are good comrades. They fall into the same trap with us too, and,
having received arms, act as if they were French and not English.
Now, one of them having saved the lives of all here, and having
brought us to a nest which may be described as that of a hornet,
they laugh and joke and make merry. _Ma foi!_ but these English are
too good to fight with. It is the rascals of Spaniards we should
engage with."

"Hear 'em!" grunted the rifleman Howeley, stretched near his comrade
Andrews. "That 'ere Mr. Jack's a givin' lip to the naval orficer. Ten
ter one he's sayin' as how the British army's better nor the navy.
Equal, I says, all the time, though the army's my choice. Mate, who's
this Mr. Clifford? What's his corps? He's a smart 'un."

His mouth went agape when the worthy Andrews informed him that Tom
was merely a civilian, a class upon which Howeley had, in his own
particular lordly way, been rather apt to look down.

"Civilian!" he gasped. "Strike me! But----"

"He's led us grandly. He's dropped into the post of commander as
if he had been trained for it, as if it were his by right. I know
all that," declared Andrews. "Tell you, my lad, he'd make a proper
soldier."

Meanwhile Tom had faced the naval lieutenant eagerly.

"You think I'd do as an officer, sir?" he asked.

"Indeed I do," came the answer. "A regular could not have done better
than you have done. You'll be a loss----"

"To the army," burst in the irrepressible Jack, grinning widely.

"To either service," said Mr. Riley seriously.

"Then, sir, I shall ask to join the army," declared our hero. "I seem
to have been meant for it. This is the second time that my efforts
to reach an office have been foiled. I shall attempt to obtain a
commission; then I'll see what can be done to help Jack to capture
Boney and turn the French out of the Peninsula."

There was more laughter at that, laughter turned on the young ensign.
A little later Mr. Riley dragged a paper from his pocket and slowly
read a few lines to our hero.

"You'll be interested to hear what is happening," he said.
"Bonaparte, otherwise known as Napoleon, sometimes also as the
'Little Corporal', or as the 'Little Corsican', Emperor of the
French, now proposes to leave the Peninsula and march from Paris
_en route_ for Russia, which kingdom he wishes to conquer and add
to his realms. Napoleon is not, in fact, satisfied with the whole
of France, Italy, and other kingdoms. He desires to place the whole
of Europe under one king, that king to be himself; to have but one
capital for all, and that Paris; one code of laws, one currency, one
language perhaps. It is Russia that now attracts him. To-morrow--who
knows?--it will be England."

"But----" flashed out Jack, indignant at the very suggestion.

"Quite so," admitted Mr. Riley, stopping him with a smile; "but, as
Jack was about to announce, there is always the service."

"Eh?" asked the ensign, puzzled for the moment.

"_The_ service stands in his way. Nelson defeated his navy in 1805,
and thereby made invasion of England impossible. _The_ service,
please, Mr. Jack."

Jack was caught, and had the grace to admit it. "I grant you that
Trafalgar was a tremendous victory, sir," he said. "But there's the
army to be considered also."

"Right, lad," came the emphatic reply. "And well they have done too.
See what wonders Wellington and his men have accomplished in the
Peninsula."

"Tell us all about it, Mr. Riley," asked Tom. "I'm like hundreds of
others. I know that Napoleon desires to conquer all within his reach,
and is said to have designs on England. I know, too, that our troops
have been in this Peninsula since 1808, fighting the battles of the
Portuguese and Spanish, and with great success. But why should we not
have left them to it? I suppose we're afraid that Boney will become
altogether too strong unless we interfere. Isn't that it? I haven't
followed the various engagements, of which there have been numbers."

"Then here's for a yarn," began the naval lieutenant. "Those
peasants, poor fools, have left us alone for the time being, and
as my wound is too painful to let me sleep, and this Jack seems
to be eager for information, why, I'll tell you the tale, and
mighty fine hearing it makes. To begin with, we hark back to the
'Little Corsican', the artillery officer--a commoner, you must
understand--who, by dint of sheer force of character and military
and diplomatic genius, became Emperor of the French after that
awful Revolution. Let us understand the position thoroughly. You
have on the throne of France a man born in a lowly station. There
is no long list of kingly ancestors behind him. Louis Capet, late
King of France, was beheaded. The kingdom had become a republic,
where equality and fraternity were supposed to flourish, and where
the people were still shivering after the awful ordeals through
which they had passed, scarcely able to believe that the days of
the guillotine had really gone--those terrible days when no man, or
woman either, knew whether the next day or so would or would not see
himself or herself sent to sudden doom.

"At this moment Napoleon Bonaparte, a distinguished soldier, appeared
upon the scene, and we find him in the course of a little time
Emperor of the French, rich, all-powerful, and extremely ambitious.
That ambition which might, had he wished it, have turned towards
the path of peace, has been resolutely bent towards conquest. As I
have said, Napoleon seeks to subjugate Europe. He dreams of a world
power, with Paris as the centre and hub of that huge empire, and
himself ruler over millions of downtrodden people. Doubtless England
would have shared the same fate as other nations, and would have been
overrun by French troops and mercenaries, had it not been for our
navy. That is the arm, my lads, which has kept us free of invasion,
that still sweeps the seas, and keeps French transports from
venturing across to our tight little island."

"Then, if that is so," ventured Tom, "why not confine our efforts to
the sea? At Trafalgar we beat the French and Spanish fleets combined.
Why then should we now take the side of the Spaniards?"

"A fair question, and easily answered," smiled Mr. Riley. "Here is
the plain, unvarnished explanation. You may say, putting sentiment
and natural sympathy apart, that it is nothing to us that Napoleon
has thrust his brother on the Spanish throne, displacing the rightful
ruler; or if he subjugates Russia, putting a ruler of his own choice
on the throne there also. You may argue that that is no affair of
England's. But let us look at the certain results of such success
on his part. He conquers a kingdom, and straightway has all the
resources of that kingdom at his command. Its men are at his service,
its fleets also; his armies and his navy are greatly increased in
power thereby. Thus, first with one addition and then with another to
this world power he seeks, Napoleon arrives at a point where he can
destroy England in spite of her navy. There you find a reason for our
actions, and for the presence of our troops here in the Peninsula. We
fight to free the peoples here, thereby reducing Napoleon's power. We
seize this opportunity because the peoples of the Peninsula will have
none of Napoleon's ruling. The countries seethe with indignation,
there are riots everywhere. Let us but drive him and his troops out
of the Peninsula, and Napoleon himself meet with reverses elsewhere,
and all the downtrodden peoples he has already conquered will turn
upon him. There will be a great alliance against this despot, and
in the course of time, in spite of his gigantic armies and their
undoubtedly fine organization, we shall wrest his power from him,
perhaps even his kingdom."

That was exactly what England was striving for in those days. It may
almost be said that a parallel situation had arisen to that which
beset the people of England in the days of Good Queen Bess. Then
Spain was a world power; that is to say, she owned amongst other
possessions those American colonies that brought her so much wealth.
The Gulf of Mexico saw many of her ships; her vessels, of enormous
tonnage when compared with those of England at that time, sailed from
the coast of Mexico laden with jewels and gold and wealth wrung from
the natives, those Astec people who displayed such gentleness of
character, such civilized habits, alongside of a barbarous custom of
human sacrifice to which the world has seen no equal, not even in the
days of King Coffee in Ashantee. Wealth can buy power; it purchases
ships, and if there be the men to man them, then a wealthy nation can
endow itself with a fleet which may be the terror of its neighbours.
That was the position between Spain and England in those days. That
Armada was preparing. It aimed at the subjugation of England, and the
story is well enough known how Drake and his admirals set forth in
their tiny ships, manned by men who may be said to have been born
aboard them, and in spite of the size of the galleons of the Armada,
in spite of paucity of numbers and shortness of ammunition, contrived
to break up the huge fleet when almost within sight of our shores.
That was nearly a parallel situation. Now, instead of Spain, France
aimed at our invasion, its Emperor Napoleon being ambitious to add
England to the other nations he was bringing beneath his sway. Who
knows what might have happened had there been no sea to contend with
and no fleet? But we may fairly surmise that this country would have
given a good account of herself, for already her armies in Portugal
and Spain had chastised the French. Whatever the result under such
circumstances, there was that sea to contend with, and Nelson and his
admirals had so carefully watched it, and had fought so strenuously,
that the fleet of France had been annihilated at Trafalgar. Thus
the fear of invasion was gone for the moment. We had the future to
consider, and, thoughtful of our own security and of the danger
which would surely arise again so soon as Napoleon had brought
Europe beneath his sway, we sent our troops to the Peninsula, there
to oppose the man whose restless ambition kept the west in a state
of turmoil, whose decree held thousands and thousands of men under
arms when they might have been engaged in some peaceful occupation,
and whose constant succession of skirmishes and battles filled the
hospitals of Europe, sent thousands of maimed wretches back to their
homes, and crowded the cemeteries. That was the direct result of
Napoleon's ambitious policy, of his aggression, and let those who
hold him up as a hero think of the unhappy wretches who suffered
pain, and whose cries of anguish are now forgotten. Let them remember
the huge number of young men in the first blush of life who found a
grave on the many battlefields of Europe.

But that was the position before Napoleon set his eyes on the
Peninsula, determining to place his brother on the throne of Spain
and so bring the entire nation under his power. It was this latter
period which was of greatest interest to our hero, and he listened
eagerly while Mr. Riley told of the landing of our troops in
Portugal, of their hardships, and of the strenuous fighting they had
experienced.



CHAPTER VII

A Tight Corner


"Now for our troops and the Peninsula," said Mr. Riley, settling
himself in a corner of the old church and fixing his eyes for a few
moments on the flaming and smoking torch which illuminated that part.
"Those peasants seem to have decided to leave us alone for to-night,
so that we have the time between this and the morning to ourselves. I
imagine, too, that we may be congratulated; since it is easier for a
few to defend a given place when they have daylight to help them. Ah,
the sentry moves!"

In the dim light cast by the torch they saw the trooper whom Tom had
stationed at the open doors of the place slowly rise to his feet and
peer out. A minute later they watched as he levelled his musket. Then
he seemed to change his mind, for of a sudden he dropped the weapon
softly to the ground and gripped his sabre. And there he remained, in
a posture that showed preparedness, for all the world like a tiger
ready to spring. Nor was it long before he suddenly awoke to action;
for there came a sound from outside the door, and a dull murmur
echoed from the distance. Creeping silently towards him, Tom peered
through the doorway over his shoulder, and for a time saw nothing.
Then, in the distance, he thought he could distinguish a dark mass
between himself and the village, while nearer at hand there were two
figures.

"Going to try a surprise," he told himself. "They have sent two of
their most daring spirits ahead, and will follow immediately."

Promptly he crept away to warn the men, who by now were asleep
for the most part; and very quietly they mustered about the door,
while those on guard at the various danger spots about the building
retained their positions.

"Gather about the door and pick up your spears," he warned the men
in a whisper. "Leave the two who are creeping on to the sentry and
Andrews."

The stalwart rifleman had already taken his post beside the sentry,
armed just as he was with a sabre, and there, like cats waiting to
pounce, they crouched. Peering out again over the carcass of the
horse, Tom saw two heads appear, and then three more immediately
behind them. One of the peasants almost instantly leaped on to the
carcass, and was joined there within a second by a comrade. There was
a loud shout from one, as if to signal to the mass behind, and then
he and his fellow leaped into the church, while others appeared just
behind the carcass of the horse.

"On them!" shouted the gallant Andrews. "Cut them down! Back with
them!"

He threw himself at the attackers, and the trooper with him. For a
minute perhaps there was a fierce scuffle, and then the two retired,
as their work was accomplished. Both the daring spirits who had
invaded the church had paid the penalty of their rashness and lay
dead upon the floor. But the others were by no means disheartened. It
appeared that a dozen or more had crept forward, and with loud shouts
they now rushed at the opening.

"Keep them off with the spears. Don't fire unless you are compelled,"
Tom ordered loudly. "We've shown them that we are ready for them, and
the less fuss we make about the matter the more they will fear us in
the future. Ah, here they come!"

By now a surging crowd had arrived outside the church, and once more
the scene of a little time before was repeated. Muskets and ancient
firearms were discharged from every point, and in the most haphazard
fashion. Indeed it may be said that in this respect the attackers
were as dangerous to one another as to the defenders of the church.
A hundred frenzied creatures hurled themselves into the doorway,
and for a while it looked as if they would sweep all before them.
But those deadly spears, harmless though they looked on a casual
inspection, did the work expected of them. Men were tossed back with
jagged wounds in the chest. Others were felled with blows over the
head, while in many instances the attackers were pushed away by sheer
strength. Then, at a signal from Tom, four of the defenders joined
Andrews and the sentry, each armed with sabres, and fell furiously
upon the mob. Shrieks filled the air; the maddened peasants dropped
their weapons and endeavoured to grapple with the soldiers. They bit
at the men and fought like fiends. Then some turned, pressing away
from the door, but only to be thrust forward again by the weight
of those behind them. It was a startled cry from someone in the
background which at length caused the mob to retire; a sudden panic
seemed to seize them and in a little while they were racing pell mell
from the building.

"Now go back to your corners and sleep," said Tom. "We have taught
them another lesson, and next time they will not be quite so bold.
Let us have a look at these fellows."

He took the torch and leaned over the two men who had been cut down
by Andrews and the trooper. They were powerful fellows, armed with
billhooks and had their boots thickly wrapped with straw so as to
deaden the sound of their coming.

"Put them outside," he ordered, "and to-morrow, at the first streak
of dawn, we will send out a party to remove the other bodies. We
may be cooped up here for a week, and things would then become
unpleasant. That reminds me; there's the question of food and water.
Well, that must settle itself; we'll wait for morning."

There was nothing else to be done; therefore, having posted his
sentries, and cautioned them to be very watchful, Tom retired to the
corner in which he had left Mr. Riley and Jack.

"A nice little skirmish, Tom," said the former. "By the time you
join the army you'll have become a veteran. These little conflicts
are all good practice, for if I am not mistaken the peasants will
make tremendous efforts when the day comes. But sit down. I'm eager
to tell my tale before another disturbance comes. Where was I?
Oh, I remember! We were talking of the troops in the Peninsula.
You understand that Napoleon's armies were massed at this time
in both Portugal and Spain. Well, Wellington--then Sir Arthur
Wellesley--sailed from Cork in July, 1808, with some ten thousand
men, and landed near Oporto. An experienced general such as he was,
one, too, fresh from conquests in India, was not likely to let the
grass grow beneath his feet, and almost at once he had a nice little
skirmish with the French at Brilos and at Rolica, causing Laborde,
their commander, to withdraw.

"He would have pushed on at once without a doubt, but information
now reached him that General Anstruther had landed at Peniche, and,
it being important to join hands with him, he left Laborde for the
moment and marched to meet the new arrivals. Almost at once General
Sir Harry Burrard appeared upon the scene, with orders from the Home
authorities to take the chief command; for these authorities were
for ever changing their minds. You observe that they send Wellesley
to the Peninsula, a general with a great and recent reputation,
and replace him within a few days by a second general, who, however
skilled, had certainly not the experience of the brilliant officer
first selected. At this time the British force was encamped at
Vimeiro, and a fierce engagement followed, forced upon our troops
by the French, and arising at that point where Wellesley's own
particular command was located. He beat the French handsomely, after
a fierce engagement in which both sides fought most gallantly,
and having done so, and received the congratulations of Sir Harry
Burrard, Wellesley promptly found himself the third in command
instead of the second; for Sir Hugh Dalrymple now arrived to take
command of the invading force, thus displaying a further change of
policy on the part of the vacillating Ministry then in charge of our
affairs.

"And now we must switch off from the forces engaged in and about
Oporto," said Mr. Riley, hitching himself a little higher in his
corner and crossing his legs for greater comfort. "We come to the
doings of Sir John Moore, a commander who won the esteem of Napoleon
himself, and whose memory will be ever honoured amongst the French.
And just let me digress for a moment. It is perhaps a most suitable
opportunity, too, for bringing the matter forward, seeing that we
are here prisoners in a sense of the French, and yet, if I make no
mistake, in command of them."

He smiled quizzingly at Tom, and laughed aloud when the latter
coloured.

"I--I couldn't well help it, sir," stuttered our hero, as if ashamed
of his action. "You see, there we were in a hole, and----"

Mr. Riley's laughter cut short the speech.

"I was only poking fun, lad," he smiled. "We all bless you for your
gallant intervention. But let me mention this matter. It is an
opportune moment, I say. I was speaking of Sir John Moore, and the
honour the French had for him. Look at the position throughout. Lads,
we are fighting gentlemen, that is the consensus of opinion amongst
officers and in the ranks. The French have fought us right gallantly.
They at least are open enemies, but the Spaniards, for whose help
we are here, disgust us. There are times, I hear, when our troops
wish matters were different, and the Spaniards the real enemies, and
sometimes the Portuguese also, for they pretend friendship, while
everywhere there are traitors, everywhere men in authority amongst
them--nobles and others who form the Juntas or Parliaments which
govern the countries now--who oppose the men who have come to free
their countries in every possible way, who are mean and contemptible
in their dealings with them, whose policy changes from day to day and
who appear at times to act as if they wished the French to remain
victorious. There! I have had my growl. Napoleon is a great man, no
doubt, with dangerous ambitions, dangerous, that is to say, to the
nations surrounding France. The French officers and men, I repeat,
are gentlemen, with whom it is an honour to cross swords. Now let
me get to the subject of Sir John Moore and his unlucky army of
penetration."

"And the retreat, which has become famous," said Jack, becoming
serious for a moment.

"Quite so, and very rightly too; for the retreat which followed the
forward march of Sir John Moore's army was conducted in a manner that
has won the praise of all. He marched for Madrid on 18 October, with
some 30,000 infantry and 5000 cavalry, all wearing the red cockade
of Spain in their caps. And perhaps it will be well to tell you at
this point that the efforts of our troops elsewhere in the command
of Wellesley, or of the other generals whom the changing policy of
our British Ministers had sent to conduct affairs, had resulted in an
agreement with the French, whereby Portugal was evacuated by their
forces and all strong places in that country given up to our men.

"Having mentioned that, I can now explain that Sir John Moore's army
was to carry the war into Spain, and marching in the direction of
Madrid to combine with the Spaniards and attempt to oust the invading
armies of Napoleon. On 13 November we hear of him at Salamanca; and
now we have an illustration of the weak and vacillating action of
the Spanish Junta, combined with as equally blameworthy action on
the part of Mr. Frere, our ambassador in Spain. Where the greatest
pains should have been taken to supply Sir John Moore with accurate
information concerning the movements of the enemy, the utmost
carelessness seems to have been the order of the day. As a result,
Sir John was in the dangerous dilemma of not knowing whether the
circumstances warranted his pushing on towards Madrid, or whether he
ought at once to begin a retreat towards the coast or into Portugal.
It was not, in fact, till an evening in December, when already the
winter was upon him, that he had certain information that Napoleon
himself was massing all his troops, and that in cavalry alone he
outnumbered the British by 12,000. Such information set our troops
retreating rapidly by way of the Galician mountains, and hot in
pursuit marched 255,000 men, with 50,000 horses, while a force of
32,000 kept in rear and held the lines of communication.

"To describe the many incidents of that memorable march would require
a length of time, and since we ought already to be asleep, preparing
ourselves for trouble to-morrow, I will merely sketch the events
which followed. For 250 miles our troops were harassed by the enemy's
cavalry, and daily there were severe skirmishes between our rearguard
and the French. Recollect that it was winter, and that the line of
retreat passed amongst the mountains, where our columns trudged
through valleys and over passes covered deep in snow. It is not
difficult to realize the terrible work this entailed, how the cold
and exposure and constant need for exertion told on men and beasts.
One can readily perceive that baggage animals broke down under the
strain, and that presently the army found itself compelled to carry
its own provisions. Add to the difficulties of the cold and snow
and the mountainous route the fact that a horde of non-combatants
accompanied the army, servants, grooms, wives and children of the
soldiers, and one sees the possibilities of added difficulty and
misery. Soon men and women began to fall by the way, as had the
horses and mules. They lagged behind, wearied and utterly careless in
their misery of the consequences. Frozen and starved they lay down
by the way, and soon the snow hid them. And always a cloud of French
horsemen followed, seeking every opportunity to charge, and dashing
in amongst the stragglers and helpless. No wonder that the army
dwindled. No wonder that its numbers fell away till but a portion
remained. But still the retreat proceeded, and ever the gallant
rearguard held the French at bay.

"On the last day of 1808 Moore quitted Astorga in Léon. On the very
next, the first day of 1809, Napoleon entered the same place with
80,000 men, his advance guard of relentless cavalry being still in
touch with our men. There the great Bonaparte remained, leaving the
final work to the Duke of Dalmatia, and conceiving it certain that
the whole British army would be exterminated. Well they might have
been too, for here we have an example of what I have mentioned.
Along the line of retreat, when the Spanish authorities could have,
and should have, made full preparations to supply our troops and
followers with rations and all that they required, they did nothing
to help. Even food was not forthcoming, so that our desperate and
hungry men were forced to pillage the inhabitants.

"It is a sad tale, lads," said Mr. Riley after a pause, "but a
gallant tale also, for Sir John and his fine fellows at length
reached Corunna, with but 14,000 all told, but with their cannon,
their colours, and their trophies intact. In fact they came to the
coast covered with honour and renown, but starved and frost-bitten,
and minus many and many a comrade. And there more fighting was
necessary, for our fleet was not in sight. The battle of Corunna
which followed ended in victory for us, but cost the lives of many
gallant fellows, and of that of Sir John Moore amongst them. Then
our troops embarked, the fleet having arrived meanwhile, and as
they sailed away, there, above the citadel where Sir John and many
a gallant comrade was buried, flew the flag of France, not at the
summit of the post, but half-masted, in respect for one who had
proved an able and a courageous leader. That, my lads, was another
proof of the feelings of the enemy for us. If fight we must,
Frenchmen at least have that generosity of feeling which allows them
to pay honour to a brave enemy."

The naval lieutenant sat back once more in his corner, his eyes fixed
upon the flaming torch. Tom looked over at the sentry, standing alert
and without a movement just behind the carcass of the horse. And
straightway he wondered whether he would live to take part in such a
retreat as that of Sir John Moore, and whether, should he be involved
in such an affair, he would conduct himself as became a British
officer. Then Mr. Riley's voice once more broke the silence.

"We have heard of the opening events of this Peninsula War," he
said. "Napoleon's invasion of Spain, and his placing of his brother
Joseph on the throne without the wish or consent of the people, had
resulted in some passages of arms between the French and English
which must have opened the eyes of Bonaparte. But it did not deter
him. Following the embarkation of Sir John Moore's army, he ordered
the invasion of Portugal again, and in a little while Soult, a famous
French marshal, held that country right down to the River Douro.

"Once more I will sketch the events which followed. Wellesley, again
in chief command, marched against the enemy, forced the passage of
the Douro, in itself a most brilliant undertaking, and drove the
French back into Spain. Following Marshal Soult, Wellesley crossed
the frontier in June, 1809, with but 20,000 British troops, though he
had some 57,000 Spanish and Portuguese soldiers to aid him, the great
majority being merely irregulars. These latter were under various
commanders, of whom I can call to memory at the moment Cuesta, the
Spanish commander-in-chief, a useless person; Romana, Blake, and
Beresford.

"At this moment the French were disposed as follows: Victor, with
some 20,000 men, was on the Tagus. Sebastiani was in La Mancha with
a force not quite so strong. Thousands were collected about Madrid,
in Galicia, Léon, and Old Castille also, while there was a division
of cavalry and 40,000 infantry stationed in Aragon and Catalonia.
Their very numbers give you an idea of the almost impossible task
imposed upon our forces. Wellesley, in fact, having entered Spain and
approached Talavera, found himself opposed to Marshal Victor, who had
King Joseph in rear, with Marshal Sebastiani's corps to aid him.

"We now arrive at the first battle of importance in the Peninsula
campaign. Talavera is a name which will be borne upon the colours
of many a regiment with lasting honour, for the fight was a fierce
and desperate one, and our victory was won only after great losses.
The battle itself was preceded by two engagements at least of some
importance, in one of which 10,000 Spanish troops distinguished
themselves by fleeing before they had come to grips with the enemy.

"Following Talavera, the smallness of our numbers and the utter
failure of the Spanish Junta to help with supplies and material
caused Sir Arthur Wellesley to retire over the Tagus into Portugal
once more, where he went into winter quarters. But the movement had
the consequences one would have anticipated. The French determined
upon another invasion of Portugal, when they hoped to drive the
British from the country, and in 1810 they came in three columns,
under the supreme command of Marshal Massena, with Junot, Ney, and
Regnier as column commanders. Lord Wellington--for he had now been
granted that title as a reward for his conspicuous services--retired
in good order to the heights of Busaco, where a terrific conflict
followed, the British troops successfully resisting the onslaught
of the French columns. Then, finding his flank turned, Wellington
retired to the lines of Torres Vedras, lines which he had been
secretly fortifying, where he might, should the French come down
upon him in overwhelming numbers, mass his men and still hold on to
a portion of Portugal. There, in fact, he remained defying the enemy
and covering Lisbon effectually.

"Thus ended the year 1810, an eventful year in the history of this
Peninsula War, for it saw at its termination a thin line of British
red opposed to masses of French troops who now held, not Spain alone,
but even Portugal, right down to the heights of Torres Vedras,
behind which Wellington and his men remained defiant, clinging to
that promontory on which is situated Lisbon. In fact they were
clinging tenaciously to the country, their fortunes seemingly rather
worse than they had been, though a huge advantage had been gained,
inasmuch as Napoleon and his hosts had learned that a few British
troops skilfully handled were easily a match for them. Nor was it
likely that we would give up the conflict. The year 1811, the year in
which we now are, began brilliantly. You may say that you are in the
midst of renewed exertions on the part of that brilliant general who
leads us; while before us there is an immense work to be done. Lads,
we have to regain Portugal before we think of ousting the French
from Spain, which will be a gigantic undertaking, with fighting in
abundance."

Jack and Tom pricked up their ears at the news. Indeed we may say
that the former had till now been filled with that vague fear which
comes to the heart of many and many a soldier who is sent to join his
regiment at war. He wonders whether his own arrival will coincide
with the defeat of the enemy, whether he will arrive too late to take
part in the stirring events to which he had looked forward.

"Then there'll be a chance," blurted out Jack, sitting up, and giving
a sharp cry of pain, for in his eagerness he had forgotten his wound.

"For you to teach Tom, and help him to become a general! Yes,"
laughed the naval officer, "heaps!"

"And you think, sir, that I shall be able to get a commission?" asked
our hero, with some amount of misgiving.

"I believe that if you manage to bring us out of this hole, and
still evade a French prison, you will be offered one promptly,"
came the gratifying reply. "But let me complete my task. We enter
upon this year of grace 1811. Let us look towards Badajoz, on the
River Guadiana, south of the Tagus. Soult advanced in this direction
to open up communications with Massena, who was massed with his
regiments on the Tagus. Wellington also advanced, and, leaving the
strong, fortified lines of Torres Vedras, crossed the Guadiana,
leaving Beresford with some 7000 British troops, and a large number
of Portuguese, to invest Badajoz. Crossing the Tagus, Wellington now
marched north towards Ciudad Rodrigo, whence Massena had taken his
troops, and established himself between the Rivers Agueda and Coa,
and within striking distance of Almeida, where was a force of the
enemy. Massena advanced against him, and our troops at once took
position on the heights of Fuentes d'Onoro, where a terrific battle
was fought, resulting in a victory for us. The French abandoned
Almeida, while Massena was recalled.

"Now we turn south again to Badajoz, for the French had retired
to Salamanca, that is, the troops lately engaged with Wellington.
Soult had been reinforced, and was well on his way to relieve the
place invested by Beresford, and, as a consequence, the latter
was forced to raise the siege, and though he could have retired
he preferred to choose a ground for fighting and give battle. He
took post at Albuera, knowing that Wellington was hastening to his
help, his troops consisting of those 7000 British, and of Spaniards
and Portuguese, the former commanded by Blake, whose arrogance and
jealousy hindered the commander not a little. It disgusts one to
have to record that many of these allies proved worse than useless
when in face of the enemy, and that but for the sturdy backbone of
British the battle would have been lost. It was, I am told, a most
confused affair, made glorious by the tenacity and bull-dog courage
of our men in face of terrible odds, and with the knowledge that
those who should have aided them, and been in the forefront, were
often skulking in the rear. The losses on both sides were huge, but
the battle ended in Soult retiring, while Beresford gathered together
his almost shattered forces as best he could, Blake, who should have
helped, even refusing him bearers for his wounded. Thereafter the
siege of Badajoz was once more entered upon, while one must mention
a brilliant little land cutting-out expedition, where, at Arroyo de
Molinos, General Roland Hill broke up a force of the enemy under
Girard, capturing men, guns, and baggage.

"Barossa, too, is worthy of more than passing mention, for the battle
was hardly fought by our men. You must understand that troops had
been dispatched to Cadiz, where the Spaniards grudgingly gave them
entry, and these sailed later on for Algeciras, where they effected
a landing. Then, with some 12,000 Spaniards, under La Pena, 4000
of our men marched against Marshal Victor's forces. Here again we
have the same tale of Spanish treachery, jealousy, and cowardice.
That movement ended in the British troops being left almost entirely
alone to withstand the onslaught of the French legions. Yet, in
spite of that, Barossa, where our troops were, saw Victor's ranks
shattered, and added one more to the many victories gained by our
gallant fellows in the Peninsula.

"And now I come to the end of my tale. Owing to the junction of the
enemy under Soult, and those divisions in the north, Wellington
abandoned the siege of Badajoz, and advanced to the Tagus. Thence he
crossed in the direction of Ciudad Rodrigo, and once more took up a
position between the Coa and the Agueda, discovering the countryside
utterly swept by the French. The latest dispatches from the Peninsula
have told of burned villages, of ruined homesteads, of starving and
infuriated peasants. Detached parties of horse have ridden through
the country, sweeping it clean as the French retired, and no doubt
these fine fellows with whom we occupy this church have formed one
of those parties. Bear in mind that they have merely obeyed orders.
Because their countrymen have dealt severely with the Portuguese they
may not have done so; and, in any case, recollect that war is a cruel
game, and brings greater misery, perhaps, on non-combatants than upon
those whose profession it is to fight. There! Out with the torch.
Let's go to sleep. Who knows? to-morrow will make a second Wellington
of our friend Tom, or will see us--er----"

Jack put on a nervous grin. Tom's handsome face assumed a stern
expression. He felt that it was not the time for joking, and, what
was more, he felt that failure here would be a disgrace after the
many brilliant battles of which Mr. Riley had been telling.

"We'll pull out in the end, sir," he said with assurance. "What we've
done already shall be done again. To-morrow--or is it to-day, for it
is past midnight?--shall see these Portuguese fellows scuttling."

The day, when it came, might bring about such a happy result. But
then it might not. On the face of it, matters were desperate, for
here were a mere handful opposed to crowds--crowds, too, incensed and
filled with a dull and defiant hatred, which made success on their
part a certain death warrant for the defenders of the village church.



CHAPTER VIII

Tom changes Quarters


Heavy drops of thunder rain, pattering upon the roof above and upon
the stone flags that surrounded the front of the church, awakened
Tom Clifford at early dawn on the morning after he had led the
French troopers to their defensive post. Not that the rumbling
thunder outside nor the patter of the raindrops awakened him to a
sense of his position. For our hero had been sunk in a deep sleep,
which nothing had disturbed up till this moment. Now, however, the
disturbance gave rise in his half-slumbering brain to a train of
thought which was half-delicious, half the reverse. For Tom was back
again in his home, beneath the shadow of that grand mulberry tree,
with Father Thames flowing past the forecourt silently, swiftly,
incessantly, as if ever engaged upon a purpose. Yes, he was beneath
the hospitable and safe roof of Septimus John Clifford & Son, Wine
Merchants, with Marguerite as his chum and close attendant, with
the ever-faithful Huggins, his father's senior clerk, to smile
indulgently upon him, and Septimus John Clifford himself to praise
his efforts to acquire Portuguese and Spanish and French.

"Heigho!" he yawned loudly, stretching his arms wide apart. "Beastly
stuff this Portuguese and French and Spanish," he babbled, still
half-asleep. "Let's go out on the river, Marguerite."

Then a shadow crossed the horizon of this pleasant half-waking dream.
A youth slipped into the arena at the far corner, a youth of olive
complexion, whose thin limbs writhed and twisted incongruously,
whose fingers twitched and plucked at moving lips, and whose very
appearance bespoke indecision, a wavering courage, meanness, and all
that that implies. It was José, Tom's cousin, and his image drew a
growl from our hero.

"Always interfering and getting in the way," he grunted peevishly. "I
have to watch him like a cat for fear he will illtreat his sister.
Was there ever such a fellow?"

The train of pleasant thought was switched off at once, and Tom
dreamed the scenes through which he had passed. His seizure by those
rascals, his impressment, and what had followed. Then a second figure
thrust itself into the arena, and swept across his sluggish brain.
It was that of a short man, of middle age, prone to stoutness; clean
shaven, with features which attracted because of the obvious power
they displayed, features set off by a pair of wonderfully steady
and penetrating eyes that spoke of firmness of purpose, of ambition
soaring to the heights, and--yes--of a relentless spirit which strove
at the attainment of any and every object at whatever cost. It was
Napoleon, Napoleon Bonaparte, the one-time Corporal, the Little
Corsican, he who had attained to the throne of France, and now,
spurred on by a restless ambition, sought to see himself emperor of
all countries, ruler of Spain through his brother, now known as King
Joseph, King of Portugal, and even the Lord of England. A crashing
detonation brought Tom to his feet with a start, wide-eyed, and very
much awake.

"What's that?" he demanded, scarcely able to believe even now that he
had been dreaming. Still, the presence of the trooper standing sentry
at the door, and his obvious freedom from anxiety, reassured him. Ah,
there was another detonation, and then a long-drawn-out rumble!

"A summer storm, monsieur," said the trooper. "It will be a fine day
yet, and the storm will clear the air. It gets light rapidly, and in
a little while we shall be able to see the pigs who have attacked us."

But Tom was thinking of something else beside the Portuguese peasants
who sought to kill the little band of troopers, together with himself
and his English companions. His thoughts suddenly turned to the
urgent need of supplies. Water was wanted; it was running to waste
outside.

"Andrews!" he shouted, and at the order the stalwart rifleman
stumbled forward, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Howeley being
close behind him. In the dim light of the coming day they drew
themselves erect as if by force of habit, and saluted, Howeley
taking time by his comrade.

"Sir!" they answered in one voice.

"We want water. Hunt round to find some roof gutter and a tub, if
there is such a thing. Get us a store somehow; it means life or death
to us. I'll see to other matters."

He saw the two set off at once, and then clambered up the steep
flight of stone steps that led to the ledge above the broken door
of the church. Standing upright there, he looked out towards the
village, and found that he could already see the nearer houses. But
a mist was rising, which, together with the heavy rain that was
falling, made seeing rather difficult. Then, turning sharply to the
left, he entered the room which the trooper had reported on the
previous evening. The man lay at the entrance, with a comrade beside
him, both sunk in deep sleep. But at Tom's coming they rose swiftly.

"It was too dark to explore last night," said one of them, "but
monsieur can see now that this is not only a church. There is a large
building attached to it, perhaps the house occupied by the pastor.
But it is empty, I think, for we have heard no sounds from it."

"Then we will investigate," answered Tom. "Stay here, one of you,
while you," and he indicated the man who had spoken, "bring your
carbine and come with me. It is already light enough to see where we
are going."

Crossing the floor of the room, Tom found it lumbered with masses of
stone and with builders' tools. It was clear, in fact, that some sort
of work was in progress. There was an arched doorway at the far end
that gave admission to a hall, or meeting place, from which steps led
to rooms above, all scantily furnished.

"The pastor's house without a doubt," said Tom. "Next thing is to see
what's underneath. A larder crammed with food would be more to my
liking than any amount of furniture. Here's the stairway. It's dark;
mind how we go."

Very carefully and silently they descended the stairs, and soon found
themselves in a flagged passage. Doors opened upon it, and, pushing
them wide in turn, Tom discovered living-rooms fully furnished,
though the articles within were covered with sheets.

"A regular spring cleaning," he said to the trooper, with a grin that
set the Gallic warrior smiling widely. "It's clear that the pastor
has gone away while workmen have possession of the house. But--my
uncle!--that's a larder, and here's the kitchen."

No one but those who have experienced it know the delight a soldier
on service finds in the discovery of dainties. Rations are apt to
pall after a while, and men long for the trifles which are commonly
to be found upon the tables of those who lead a more peaceful
existence. And here was a find. The careful housewife of the pastor,
his housekeeper, or whoever saw to his material wants, had set by a
store at the sight of which Tom's mouth watered.

"My uncle!" he exclaimed again, running his eye along a row of
preserves neatly bottled, and surveying a dozen hams hanging to hooks
in a ceiling beam. "But--" and at the word his jovial face fell
and lengthened till it was like a fiddle. "But they ain't ours to
take--eh?"

The trooper grinned widely. He was an old soldier, and though he may
have had his scruples, a limited diet for the past few weeks, and a
gnawing at his stomach now, swept all scruples aside.

"Monsieur then prefers to starve with plenty beneath his nose?" he
asked politely, drawing himself up and shouldering his carbine, so
that the muzzle struck the low ceiling violently. "_Parbleu!_ There
is reason why we should eat these good things, monsieur. But for the
pigs who hem us in, and for their hatred of us, we could step outside
and buy what is required. That is so, monsieur?"

"Exactly," came the crisp answer, while Tom still surveyed the good
things hungrily.

"But we cannot set out for the market. These pigs send bullets at us
instead of food. That being so, _vraiment, monsieur_, surely here
comes in a law of nature. To live one must eat. Here, then, is the
wherewithal to obey that law."

The rascal grounded his weapon with a resonant bang, and put his nose
within an inch of one of the hams.

"Ready cooked--meant to be eaten," he gasped. "Monsieur will----"

Tom's courage and scruples broke down under such subtle temptation.
Besides, here it was a case of necessity. He took the ham from its
hook, caught up a bag of dried biscuit, and then gave an inquisitive
kick to a huge barrel, getting back a dull, telling sound.

"Full to the bung, _monsieur_--the wine of the country. Something
with which to slake our thirst, and so enable us to defeat the enemy."

"Send for two of the troopers at once," said Tom. "Let them remove
the contents of the larder to the room above. But, wait. Let us
complete our investigations."

When they had at length been over the whole of the premises they had
come to the conclusion that the house had at one time been a clergy
house, and had harboured many people; for at the far end of the
passage they found a door admitting to still more rooms, and then
to an enormous yard, about which was a high wall. A pair of huge
doors led from this beneath an archway, supporting a portion of what
proved to be stables, in which were a couple of nags, while the eager
trooper discovered stores of hay and corn in a loft adjoining.

"And a water trough and pump in the yard," cried Tom, delighted at
such a find. "There you are, water in plenty," he added, working the
pump and sending a gushing torrent pouring from the ancient spout.

The discovery they had made was, indeed, of the greatest moment;
but it brought this in its train: it compelled the leader of the
defenders to make up his mind whether to vacate quarters which had,
so far, proved an excellent refuge, or whether to hold to them,
trusting to procure provisions and water from the clergy house so
closely adjacent. It was characteristic of Tom, perhaps, that before
the trooper had time to ask the question, he had come to a decision.

"Listen," he said peremptorily. "The windows of this place all face
into the yard. You saw no others?"

"None: it is as monsieur describes."

"And the wall outside the place, surrounding the yard, is so high
that a man must use a ladder to ascend and descend."

"_Vraiment, monsieur_; otherwise he would be crushed as if he were an
egg."

"Then we change quarters. Leave the ham and come along. Wait,
though--get the key of the doors leading into the yard. See if you
can open them."

The trooper dashed away, and in a trice came back, widely grinning.

"They were in the lock, monsieur," he reported. "All, in fact, was
in readiness for us. It is clear that the Portuguese expected our
coming, and prepared us a welcome!"

"Stand by the doors: open when you hear our men coming."

Tom went off at his fastest pace, and was soon scrambling down on
to the floor of the church. A glance outside told him that rain was
still falling, while an occasional clap of thunder warned him that
the storm was still at hand. But there were figures over by the
village; half a dozen men stood in a bunch, and the light was now so
strong that one could see that they were armed.

"Fall in," shouted Tom; and at once the men came tumbling forward,
and lined up in front of him. Very rapidly, then, Tom told off half
their number to fetch the horses. The others he again divided,
posting three men above the doorway, four behind the carcass of the
horse, while the rest were told off to carry Mr. Riley and Jack. Very
rapidly he explained in French what he was about to do.

"When we have the horses ready," he said, "pull this carcass aside,
and then let those in charge lead the beasts down the steps and
direct to the left. Turn sharp to the left again at the end of
a wall and you will come to a doorway; lead them in there. Now,
hasten. Those fellows beyond there are merely waiting for the rain to
cease. We shall be in clover, and eating a substantial breakfast, my
lads--yes, for I have discovered a store of provisions--before the
enemy guess what is happening."

Soldiers are not the class of individuals to be upset by surprise. A
constantly changing life such as a campaign brings accustoms them to
quick and unexpected changes. Moreover, here they had confidence in
the young Englishman who had so suddenly taken command of the party.
There was, therefore, not so much as a question. In less than five
minutes all were ready, while Mr. Riley was by then halfway up the
steep flight of steps leading to the house. Andrews stood beside the
carcass of the horse, the perspiration streaming from him; for he had
raced round the church and inspected every corner.

"Ready, sir?" he asked.

Tom nodded.

"Then heave," called Andrews, tugging at one of the legs of the dead
animal. The troopers threw themselves upon the carcass at once, and
in a trice it had been dragged aside.

"Now out with them 'ere horses," commanded Andrews hoarsely. "Beg
pardon, sir, but I don't know what you're up to. This is certain
though: there's not a drop of water in the church."

"There's heaps where we're going," answered Tom laconically. "Heaps."

"And grub, beggin' pardon again, sir?"

"Could you eat ham, well-cooked ham, Andrews?" asked Tom, without a
smile.

"Ham! Bust me----!" began the rifleman.

"And preserves. Perhaps the wine of Portugal wouldn't be good enough
for you, though. There's at least one barrel of it where we're going."

Andrews' eyes shone with expectation. He moistened his lips with the
tip of his tongue. "Food and drink, sir," he gasped, as if the news
were too good. "Plenty of it, too. Why--bust me!----"

He could get no further than that expression; it conveyed his whole
meaning. But the eyes which looked Tom Clifford up and down an
instant later had, if possible, just a little more respect in them.

"If he don't walk right off with the palm," spluttered the rifleman.
"Here's he, a civilian--yes, a civilian--and he jest takes this
little lot by the hand as you might say, and shepherds them. When
there's trouble with the peasants, he sets about and gives 'em proper
snuff. And when things is getting queer, and grub's scare, and water
run clean out, why here he makes a man dance with news of hams--yes,
hams he did say--and wine--why, it's Wellington hisself couldn't have
done better!"

Two by two the horses went clattering down the steps of the church
and out into the open. Shouts came from the direction of the village,
while other figures joined those bunched together in the rain.
Splashes of flame and loud reports showed that shots were being
fired; but still the procession of horses came from the church. When
all were out, there were, perhaps, fifty of the enemy watching and
firing, while others came rushing from the houses. It appeared, too,
as if they expected the troopers to mount at once and gallop away;
for horns sounded in the distance, while men went dashing in all
directions, as if to warn outlying parties to close in and surround
the troopers. Perched now on the ledge over the doorway, Tom watched
as the horses were led along beside the wall, and saw them swing
round the corner. He waited three minutes, when a trooper came
dashing to him through the room which was littered with masons' tools
and implements.

"Monsieur, all the horses are in the yard; the doors are shut."

"Then let two of you take charge of the forage, not forgetting that
it must last a week at least. Feed the horses and water them."

"Mr. Riley's safe in bed in one o' the rooms yonder, as snug as ef
he was aboard his own ship, sir," reported Howeley, arriving on the
scene now, and grinning his delight. "Mr. Barwood's ditto, a cussin',
sir, 'cos he says as he's fit fer duty."

"Feed them," answered Tom. "You'll find the larder below; take
charge of it, Howeley. I make you responsible for all it contains;
but carry something to the two officers promptly. Now, Andrews," he
said, as that worthy came towards him, "let's clear the church of all
our traps. There are saddle bags and other things to bring with us;
there's the ammunition also."

"Cleared, sir," reported the rifleman, delight showing in every
feature. "I thought as you'd enough and too much to see to, and so I
give them Frenchies orders. They're quick to hop, are them froggies.
It's friends, not enemies, we ought to be. But the church is clear,
sir; there's a dead horse left, and a few of the peasants as was too
inquisitive."

"Then we'll get to breakfast," said Tom heartily. "You've recalled
the man from the tower?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then post one of the troopers on this ledge, and come along.
Something to eat will put us all in a good temper and fit us for
the trouble that's brewing. Those peasants don't seem yet to have
gathered what we are up to. But, in a little while, when they have
guessed at our move, they'll be swarming this way. Here we are.
Across this hall and down the stairs. Ah, there's Howeley--well?"

"Taking food to the orficers, sir," grinned the latter, appearing in
the doorway of the larder with some fine slices of ham and a jug of
wine, while a second plate was loaded with biscuit. "There's a store
here, sir, as would make the whiskers of a commissariat serjeant
curl, sir--so it would! There's ham, biscuit, jam, cheese, flour, and
what not. This here ruction's put us into clover."

It took perhaps half an hour for Tom's party to settle down in their
new quarters; because, first of all, there were the wounded officers
and the horses to attend to. For the former Howeley had already done
service, so that when Tom, relieved of all immediate anxiety, went
upstairs to them, he found his two comrades stretched on a pair
of comfortable beds, the naval lieutenant brimming over with good
humour, and Jack just swallowing his anger at the sight of the food
which the rifleman had brought.

"Of all the wretched bits of luck I ever struck this is the worst,"
he declared, managing, however, to bury his teeth in a fine, thick
slice of ham. "Here am I, crocked up because of a bullet fired
by some peasant fool from a blunderbus, and you, Tom, having all
the fun. It's wretched luck; everything's wrong. Why, there's not
even----"

What his next grumble would have been it is difficult to imagine, but
Mr. Riley cut him short with loud laughter.

"Everything's wrong, Tom, my lad," he laughed heartily, holding up a
slice of ham as big as that held by Jack. "Here we are, stretched on
wretchedly comfortable beds, when we ought to be lying on stone flags
which are really helpful when a man wishes to sleep. And we've grub
too--grub, when we ought to be without rations. But the most serious
part of the whole affair is that while we've really quite decent
ham to eat, fair wine to drink, and hard biscuit to chew, we've no
mustard to go with the ham. I protest, sir! It's a real hardship."

That set them all laughing, till the gallant lieutenant choked and
became crimson, and put his hand to his side with a cry of pain.
Jack sat up, his eyes shining, his teeth occupied with another bite.
Howeley, ever mindful of discipline, stood rigidly at attention, his
jaws moving from side to side as he strove to prevent himself from
joining in the merriment.

"Well, I'm hanged!" was all that Jack could at length deliver himself
of. "This is clover! Have some, Tom?"

They made a merry meal there, our hero seated on the edge of Jack's
bed; and much they enjoyed the fare which good fortune had provided.
Howeley, meanwhile, with Andrews and the rest of the men were
discussing an equally satisfying meal, the first-named having, at
Tom's wish, taken over the supply department. Horses had by then been
watered, and were now tied to rings ranged along the wall of the
yard, munching contentedly at heaps of hay placed at their heads for
them.

"_Sapristi!_ But I never saw the like before," ventured one grizzled
trooper, taking to his pipe when he had finished his own meal, and
levelling his remarks at Andrews. "Never before!"

"Right!" ejaculated Andrews. "_Très bien!_" for he had picked up an
odd word or two of the language. "Proper sort, ain't he?"

"_Mais_, he is remarkable," went on the man in his own language,
since he knew no other. "See us yesterday. We are surrounded. We
are hemmed in by a thousand wild beasts; our captain is killed; our
serjeants are biting the dust. We ourselves are like lost sheep.
And he, this youth, he leads us to the church, where there is
nothing--nothing, mark you, comrade, but stone walls and floors.
Now look at us! We live in luxury. The horses are content. This
youth laughs with his comrades as if a Portuguese cut-throat did not
exist, and as if the British army was within hearing. He is a second
Bonaparte."

It was praise of our hero, coming from the lips of a Frenchman, and
Andrews endorsed the remarks with vehemence. Not that he understood
what was said. He gathered merely that compliments were flying with
regard to our hero, and stanchly supported him.

"He's a toff, he is," he answered, stretching himself at his ease,
and drawing at his pipe. "A chip of the old block. He's jest British
to the backbone, from the soles of his feet right up to the crown of
his head. I'll punch the face of any as dares to say that I'm a liar."

The threat was accompanied by a gleam of the eye that had warned
enemies of the riflemen before then; and the Frenchman, with the
quickness and perception of his race, must have followed closely, for
he jerked himself nearer the rifleman in his enthusiasm, gripped him
by both hands, and would have embraced him, had not Andrews, with
true British dislike of a scene of such a description, put him firmly
aside.

"None o' yer monkey tricks fer me," he called out. "But I'm with you
all the while. Here's my hand on it."

At that moment a loud report aroused the garrison. Tom appeared at
the entrance to the courtyard, and at once, as if by agreement, the
troopers formed line, and drew themselves up as if for an inspection.
Tom emerged into the courtyard at once--for the rain had ceased now
for some while--and slowly inspected his men.

"We've had a good breakfast," he said, with a smile which went far
to put heart into the troopers. "Now we've to work for the next
meal. The peasants are approaching. We must get to our stations; and
remember, please, fire as seldom as possible. This siege may last a
week yet, so ammunition is most important. An hour ago water and food
were most in request; you have both now. Then look carefully after
the only other commodity that matters."

They broke their ranks at once, and went to their stations, for
each had been allotted one. Two men stood guard on the ledge above
the doorway of the church, crouching so that those below could not
see them. The room behind contained half a dozen more figures, with
Andrews to command them. Elsewhere, in the room over the doorway
leading into the courtyard were Howeley and three men, while the
remainder watched from the upper windows which faced the yard, ready
at a call to go in either direction.

As for the enemy, they appeared in swarms, tramping from the
village, armed with every sort of weapon. Crouching on the ledge
above the church door Tom watched their approach with some amount of
curiosity, wondering what they would do, and whether they suspected
the change which had taken place so early in the morning. Then he
noticed a dozen men detach themselves from the mob, and move out
before them. They halted when some fifty paces from their friends and
laid down their weapons. Then they advanced again till within easy
speaking distance of the church door. Tom at once rose to his full
height, the sight of his figure drawing shouts from the mob in the
background. Then there was silence.

"We come as a deputation," said one of the little band who had
advanced. "We come to speak to the Englishman."

"I am here; what do you want?" answered our hero promptly.

"We bear a message. The elders of the village and the leaders of the
peasants again make you an offer. You are free to leave the place
with your four English comrades. An escort will be allowed, and
you will be taken to the nearest camp. You may carry arms and your
personal possessions. Refuse, and you shall be slaughtered with the
hated Frenchmen whom we are sworn to kill."

"Then take my answer," called Tom loudly. "Two of my comrades are
hurt, and cannot move, so that we could not accept your terms. Even
so, we would refuse. Now take warning from me again. We have shown
you that we can fight, and we are all the more ready for trouble now
that day has come and we have slept. Go to the nearest camp and send
troops to us. The Frenchmen shall then become prisoners. Those are
the only terms we will agree to."

"Then you will not take freedom and safety for yourself?" asked the
spokesman.

"I will not," came the short answer.

"Then you shall live but a little while to regret such action.
To-night we will hoist the heads of every one of you to the tower of
the church. You are a bigger fool than I thought you."

He turned about with his fellows and retreated. They picked up their
arms and joined their comrades, when a loud discussion followed. Then
once more the forward move was continued, Tom and his men watching as
a mob five hundred strong bore down upon the building.

"I see ladders amongst them," said Andrews of a sudden, peering over
our hero's shoulder. "That looks as if they would attempt to climb
the wall of the yard. Then they guess where we've got to."

The next few minutes showed that the enemy were fully alive to the
situation. They steered away from the door of the church, a few on
the flank alone advancing toward it. The remainder surrounded the
yard and the house, and, a shot having been fired by one as a signal,
all rushed in to the attack, the ladder bearers winning their way to
the wall without difficulty, while a chosen band made an onslaught
upon the doors which gave entrance.



CHAPTER IX

Hard Pressed


"Stand back so that they cannot see you," commanded Tom, as the
peasants rushed madly at the entrance of the church that the troopers
had defended so gallantly on the previous evening, and above which
they were now stationed. "There is no need for us to risk their
bullets yet. Let them climb, and then we will use our spears again
and teach them that, if anything, we are in a stronger position."

The advice came in time to save many a wound without shadow of doubt;
for while two or three hundred of the maddened Portuguese had swarmed
along the walls of the house, and turning the corner abruptly had
then made a fierce onslaught on the gate leading into the yard,
or were endeavouring to clamber to the top of the wall, an almost
equal number had selected the church door for their own particular
effort. They came on at the double, brandishing an assortment of
strange weapons, weapons which, though they were not similar to those
carried by the troops, and had seen many and many a summer, and, in
fact, were wont to be used more often in the peaceful employment of
agriculture, were still capable of giving terrible wounds, wielded
as they were by men who seemed actually to be maddened by the sight
of the defenders. The affair in which Tom and his friends found
themselves so strangely and unexpectedly mixed was, indeed, one of
those sad exhibitions of savagery to be met with, alas! in time of
war, when such war is accompanied by atrocities. Knowing something
of the history of this Peninsula campaign, and guessing at the rest,
Tom could realize that the Portuguese peasant had suffered severely
at the hands of vindictive troops who had been given a more or less
free hand. The French bore an unenviable reputation for rapine,
and history tells clearly that while the Spaniards had no very
great cause of complaint, the Portuguese were often enough horribly
treated. And at this time, when the French were slowly being forced
in front of our armies towards the Portuguese frontier, driven in
spite of their numbers out of a country they had sworn to hold, the
atrocities committed were many. They did not stop at burning villages
and ruining crops. Defenceless people were killed and horribly
illtreated. Even the women and children were subjected to violence.
And here was a direct result. One could hardly blame the peasants.
Reprisals, terrible reprisals when the opportunity came, were but a
natural sequence to violence.

"I have known these brutes waylay the rearguard of two battalions
marching north, and capture everyone," said a trooper who was close
to Tom, craning his head so as to see the mob from over the edge
of the parapet. "Yes, monsieur, I have known them to capture a
hundred men, and when the news reached us, and we, a full regiment
of cavalry, galloped to the spot, we found every one of our brothers
murdered, done to death by torture. _Vraiment!_ It made our blood
boil. It makes us fight now till there is not a breath left in us."

Tom sighed. It was not often that he indulged in such a melancholy
act; but the thing saddened him. In the midst of an attack it is
true that he could forget the reasons for it, could almost forget
the nationality of the enemy, but in his more serene moments he
could not help but see the fact that these were but peasants, and
that their rage and hatred were natural. Nevertheless, to allow them
to chop himself and his little command to pieces because the French
had earned reprisals was a very different matter. Self-preservation
is one of the first laws ingrafted in us, and in Tom it was acutely
displayed.

"Keep lower, my friend," he warned the trooper. "Ah! They have
rushed into the church, perhaps hoping that we have left a comrade
or two there. Soon they will try the steps, and then there will be a
hubbub. Stand back, you men with the spears; and recollect, no shots,
no wasting ammunition. Beat them back with the spears or with your
sabres. Now, I will go to see how the others fare."

He left the faithful Andrews in charge of the party, and, passing
into the clergy house, popped his head into the room occupied a
little while before by Jack and Mr. Riley. They were gone; it was
evident that they had risen. Pushing on, he came to the windows
commanding the yard, and there discovered the truants.

"What's this?" he demanded somewhat curtly.

"Disobeying orders," smiled Mr. Riley, while Jack looked his friend
up and down for a few seconds, as if he resented interference, and
then grinned widely.

"Never did see such a cormorant, sir," he said, addressing the naval
lieutenant. "Here he is; he gets up a row with these poor peasants,
bottles us in bed, and expects us to stay there. Not if I know it!"

Jack hopped on one leg to the far window, steadied himself there, and
then slowly lifted a carbine which he had managed to secure.

"You go along and see to the defence generally, lad," cried Mr.
Riley, slapping our hero on the back. "Jack and I couldn't be
expected to stay in that room when such an attack was being made.
You leave us in charge of this part of the defences, and even if we
can't do much, we can at least encourage the men and see that all
goes well. It will leave you free to arrange other matters. Ah! The
beggars have managed to get to the top of the wall; they've failed
once at the gate."

The attack on the latter had, in fact, been easily driven off; for
the little room built over it projected a couple of feet beyond the
face of the wall, and was provided with a wide door and a trap, while
a wooden crane swung outside. It was, therefore, a matter of no
great difficulty to open the trap and fire directly down upon the
attackers, while Howeley, the energetic commander of the post, had
already contrived to gather a respectable number of paving stones
from the yard below, and with these had beaten down the attackers.

"Made 'em hop mighty quick, sir," he said. "There must have been
twenty dozen of the beggars, all as mad as hatters. But even mad
people feel blows when landed on their heads. You can see what
happened."

Tom peeped through the trap. Down at the foot of the gate were three
peasants prone and still, while two more were slowly crawling away.
At a distance of fifty feet there was a bunch of a hundred, eyeing
the gateway with savage looks, and discussing the situation hoarsely.
Then some went away at a run, returning in less than five minutes
with a long beam.

"Going to try a battering ram," said Tom, rather scared at the sight.

"We'll give 'em battering," came the reassuring words from the
rifleman.

"I've two men posted down in the yard with their carbines, and we've
knocked a couple of holes in the gates. If we can't reach the enemy
from above here, the boys below can manage. They've filled up their
barrels with pebbles scraped up from between the paving stones. The
shots will scare the peasants same as if they was birds."

A glance at the sturdy fellow showed that he had no fears with
regard to his own particular defences, and, staying there a moment,
Tom had full reason to trust him; for the mob outside were in such
temper that delay was out of the question. Some fifty of their number
began to fire at the gateway and at the trapdoor above, while their
comrades picked up the huge beam and advanced at a run, shouting
loudly to encourage one another. Crash! went the end of the beam
against the gates, shaking them severely. Then came the clatter
of stones. Standing well above the attackers, Howeley and his two
troopers advanced in turn, elevated a paving stone, took careful aim,
and then threw it downwards. With a shout of terror the attackers
promptly retired. A minute later, however, they came forward again
at a run, and on this occasion a dozen of their number bore muskets.
Stationing themselves in such position that they could fire through
the open trap, they sent their bullets thudding into the ceiling
of the room, making it impossible for Howeley and his men to take
effective aim. Meanwhile the others ran in, and, picking up their
beam, swung it backward in preparation for another blow.

"Jest you keep on tossing them stones over," commanded Howeley, as if
the troopers could understand every word. "Savvy, me lads? Don't show
up, but jest lift a stone same as this, standing well back, and heave
it through. It'll hit something."

It did. A howl from below, and a chorus of shouts and cries greeted
the stone, while one of the men holding the beam fell as if struck by
a poleaxe.

"Savvy?" asked Howeley curtly.

"_Bien!_" came the equally curt answer.

"Then jest you look to it."

Howeley went off as if he were provided with wings, and a moment or
two later Tom heard him shouting to the troopers down in the yard.

"Jest give 'em mustard," he bellowed. "You've got that, me lads?
Mustard's the stuff they're wanting. Let in at 'em."

A loud roar followed his words instantly, and then a second. Smoke
billowed up through the trap, while a torrent of yells and cries came
from the mob. Tom glanced over the edge, to find the beam lying on
the ground and the attackers in full flight, save for those struck
down by the slugs and bullets which had been discharged at them.

However, the fury of a mob is a thing to tremble at. The poor
wretches outside came on again, bearing a ladder, and in a trice the
latter was safely wedged in the open trap. Desperate men swarmed on
to it, and it looked as if there would soon be a contest at the top.
But Howeley's paving stones were irresistible. They swept the rungs
of the ladder clean, and in less than a minute the ladder was tossed
down and the frantic enemy was in full retreat.

"Well done!" cried Tom, delighted at the success gained in this
quarter, but sorry, nevertheless, for the peasants. "I can leave
you here knowing that all will be well. What's that?"

He went racing back to the windows occupied by Jack and the naval
officer, to discover that a commotion had suddenly arisen in the yard
over by the far containing wall. The tops of a dozen ladders could be
seen against the skyline, perched against the outside of the wall,
while the broad summit of the latter was thickly covered with defiant
peasants. They clustered thickly along the top, some firing their
muskets at the figures in the window. Others had managed to drag up
two ladders, and having dropped these into the yard were now swarming
down.

"Into the yard!" shouted Tom at once, leading the way downstairs at
a run, and dashing outside where the horses were quartered. He was
joined by a dozen troopers within a few seconds, who all raced across
the yard, their sabres swinging in their hands. One of their number,
a light horseman by the look of him, outdistanced his fellows, and
gripping one of the ladders dragged it aside with all his force,
and sent it thudding into the yard with a couple of the peasants
upon it. But a dozen and more of the latter had contrived to descend
the second ladder, and at once there began a desperate hand-to-hand
contest, pikes and scythes being opposed to sabres.

[Illustration: "GRIPPING ONE OF THE LADDERS DRAGGED IT ASIDE WITH ALL
HIS FORCE"]

"Hold them, lads!" came in stentorian tones from Mr. Riley, in spite
of his wound. "Hold them for a little, Tom. We'll have the other boys
along in a jiffy."

Stamping with impatience because common sense and lack of strength
told him that he himself was unfit to join in the mêlée, and, in
fact, even to clamber down the steps, the naval lieutenant put to
good purpose a stentorian voice trained in a service where lung
power is required, and where the weakling is useless. In spite of
the roar of the mob Andrews and Howeley heard him, and, rallying
in his direction, went headlong down the stairs, with a number of
their fellows with them. They arrived just in time to stem the
tide of invasion. The ladder still remaining upright, and loaded
with peasants scrambling to the help of their comrades, was thrown
down by a couple of the troopers. And then, for the space of five
minutes perhaps, there was a fierce struggle in the yard. The
troopers at a shout from Tom separated themselves and formed a ring
round the invaders, while the latter, taken aback now that they
found themselves cut off from all help by their comrades, retired
towards the wall, their scythes held well in front of them, their
eyes furtively seeking for some hole or corner which would give them
security.

"Hold!" cried Tom loudly, anxious to save unnecessary bloodshed. "You
men keep your formation. Now," he went on sternly, addressing the
Portuguese in their own tongue, "I give you a moment in which to lay
down your arms, promising on the word of an Englishman that you shall
not be injured. Answer."

With a sullen clang the peasants tossed their arms to the pavement,
and stood glowering at the troopers, fearful yet whether they would
be murdered.

"Form into line, two abreast," commanded Tom again. "Howeley, just
get to your post and tell us if the enemy are near. I'm going to
eject these fellows."

He waited till there came a hail from the rifleman.

"All clear, sir," he shouted. "Them fellers has had a stomachful and
has cleared."

"Then get below and make ready to open one of the gates. My lads,"
he said, addressing the troopers, who regarded their prisoners with
no very friendly looks, "these men have thrown down their arms on my
promise that they shall go unharmed. You will march beside them to
the gate and stand about in case of a rally. Pick up your wounded and
killed," he called to the peasants. "You will march straight across
to the gate, and will pass out without attempting violence. Any man
who disobeys will be killed instantly. Let this be a lesson to you.
Go to your comrades and tell them that we are well able to defend
ourselves, and that it would be better far for them and all if they
left us alone. Now, march."

Looking forlorn and frightened, and regarding the troopers with eyes
which showed even now, though rather cowed, their hatred of them,
the peasants picked up their comrades, of whom a number had fallen,
and bore them to the gate. Two minutes later they were gone, wending
their way from the defences sadly, and in different spirit from that
which had filled them a little while before. Crash went the gate.
Howeley threw the bar into position and turned the key.

"Well done!" came from the window above in loud tones. "Well done all
of you!"

Glancing up, Tom saw the jovial naval lieutenant waving eagerly to
him, while close at hand was Jack's grinning and perspiring face. He
was actually shaking a fist at our hero.

"Lucky brute!" he growled in a voice so quaint, and with such queer
grimaces, that even the French troopers could see the humour.

"Lucky brute to be able to hop about and take part in all these
skirmishes. Wouldn't I give something to be in your shoes."

"And right well ye'd do, sir, begging pardon," came from Andrews,
whom the contest had worked up to a degree of excitement. "But it's
well for us all that Mr. Clifford's here, begging pardon, sir."

"Well said," shouted Mr. Riley. "Ah, I wish to goodness I could talk
French! I'd make a speech in Tom's favour. I'd call for cheers."

"Then here's three cheers fer Mr. Tom," came from Andrews in
bellowing tones, cheers in which the troopers joined lustily, for
they fully understood the gist of what was passing.

"And now?" asked Mr. Riley, wiping the perspiration from his face.
"Now, Tom, after that precious near squeak?"

"Any damage done?" asked our hero at once. He ran his eyes over the
troopers, and soon discovered that four had been wounded, though,
fortunately, none of the wounds were severe.

"Then pitch those ladders up against the wall again and look about
for a strong plank. We'll make a bit of a platform above, where we
can post a few men. They'll be able to keep others of the peasants
from trying the same game. How are things passing at the church door?"

An inspection there proved that the enemy had retreated, though
doubtless some of them were within the church. However, for the
moment at least, the bulk of the mob had gone, and Tom took advantage
of the lull to make his preparations for feeding the defenders. The
kitchen fire was soon roaring up the chimney, while outside, in the
yard, there was another blaze. A trooper, booted and spurred, and
stripped to his shirt, bent over a huge basin perched on a low wooden
table, and sturdily pummelled a mass of dough. Near at hand stood
another, stripped like his fellow, thrusting his long moustaches
upward toward his eyes.

"_Nom de nomme_, but this is soldiering!" he was saying to his
comrade, as he added handfuls of flour from an open sack. "This is
what a man can call campaigning."

"Eh? Ah!" the other grunted. "_Mais pourquoi?_"

"Hear him!" came the astonished answer, while the trooper held a
floury hand aloft as if to show his amazement. "He asks why, when the
reason is plain. _Dites donc, mon fou_; is it so often, then, that
we fight under the eye and command of an English _garçon_? Poof! That
is the charm of the thing. I tell you, yesterday I said to myself:
'Pierre, you will be chopped to pieces before the sun comes up
to-morrow. You and your comrades will be but mince meat.'"

The man kneading the dough shivered and grunted his disapproval.
"Gently, comrade," he growled. "You will spoil the tart I am making.
What then?"

"What then? He asks what then? See here, _mon brave_, we have
fighting, heaps of it, and it is the peasants--poor fools!--who are
chopped to pieces. We have excitement and work fit for a soldier,
I say, and, with it all, see also what we get. Ah! I smell meat
cooking, and here is something that we have not seen for many a long
day."

He went clanking his spurs across to a corner where the watchful
Howeley had deposited a huge jar of jam, and came staggering back
with it. The two men took the pan from the low table, lifted the
dough from it, and, having thickly dusted the table top with flour,
laid their dough upon it. Then came the task of rolling.

"Try that, mate," suggested Howeley, who was now watching the
proceedings with a grin of expectation. "Wasn't meant for the job;
but beggars can't be choosers."

He offered the barrel of an old firelock, the butt and lock of which
had gone, and the trooper took it with a flourish. Dusting it well,
like the table, he rolled the dough with the hand of an expert,
and, having satisfied himself that his work was nearly finished, he
pinched a corner from the dough and handed it to the rifleman.

"Try," he grunted.

"Real fine!" answered the Cockney. "I'm waiting for this here pie to
get finished."

"Then the jam, Pierre."

The second trooper let it fall from the jar into the species of basin
which his comrade had now contrived within a shallow pan, and watched
as the latter smoothed it down with a wooden ladle. On went the
covering of dough, while the cook with skilled eye and hand marked
the edges of the pie, dividing it into as many sections as there were
defenders.

"Now," he cried, "to the kitchen with it. If we are to be cut to
fragments this evening, at noon we will at least dine like gentlemen.
Take it, Pierre, and see that you do not get it burned. Then indeed
would your punishment be terrible."

Such rejoicing as there was over that meal! Divided into three
separate messes, the defenders ate slices of frizzled ham in the
recesses of the room above the doorway of the church. Others again
washed down the food with liberal allowances of the wine of the
country, looking about them through the door opening above the
gateway of the yard, while Jack and Mr. Riley held a reception in
the corridor from which windows opened into the yard, and there
discussed the good things sent them with many a jest and laugh. Yes,
the spirits of the defenders were wonderfully buoyant. And why not?

"Why be miserable while we're alive?" asked Jack, cramming a piece
of that wonderful tart into his mouth; for, even if he were wounded,
Jack could still show a remarkably undiminished appetite.

"First there's ham, and then there's jam," he sang, till another
mouthful kept him silent.

"Indeed, why not be jolly?" chimed in Mr. Riley. "Here we are all
tight and weatherproof, as you might say. What's there to grumble at?
But, seriously, how on earth is this matter to end? Those peasants
have drawn off for the moment; but will they retire from the contest
for good? Eh? Now, sir, what's the answer?"

Tom flushed at being addressed in such a manner, and munched steadily
at his food. But his deep-set eyes wore a far-away look which showed
that he was thinking.

"Eh?" asked Jack, prodding him with the prong of a broken fork
discovered in the kitchen. "Do we draw off as victors, receiving
well-deserved promotion for this--er--this--shall we say, gallant
action? or shall we, in fact----?"

"Be paid the compliment of appearing in the _Gazette_ as 'missing'?
My word, that would be hard luck after such a business! Now, Tom?"

"More pie," said the latter deliberately. "Whilst we live we'll eat.
But who can say what'll happen? We've given those poor fellows
a regular drubbing; but I don't believe they've done with us. I
don't like this drawing off, and the silence we now have; it means
mischief. I'd give a heap to know what they are up to."

Once the meal was finished, and the horses' wants seen to, the
defenders of the place occupied themselves in a hundred different
ways. Some cleaned their carbines and burnished their scabbards;
others indulged in the luxury of a wash at the pump in the yard;
while Tom, on whom the responsibility of everything depended, walked
slowly from one end to the other of the defences.

"I'd give a heap to be able to guess rightly what the enemy are up
to," he said, for perhaps the tenth time, to Andrews, who seemed to
haunt his side. "One sees little or nothing of them."

"Next to nothing, sir," agreed the rifleman, with knitted brows.
"But they ain't up to no good, I'm sure of it. You can see 'em come
from the village at times and stare over here at us. Then they'll
disappear again, while boys and young men scuttle about, and carry
armfuls of something that I ain't sure of at this distance. There's
been knocking, too, in the church."

"Hum!" Tom pondered over the information. He listened acutely, for he
was just at the edge of the platform above the church door. But from
that position, indeed from any position held by the defenders, it was
impossible to look into the place. Yes, there was knocking, coming
from the interior of the church, and----

"I heard a heavy fall, as if stones had been dislodged!" he
exclaimed. "Come down below with me, Andrews."

They ran to the stairs, and scuttled down at their fastest pace.
Making their way along the corridor they were soon at the kitchen,
and then entered a storeroom beyond. It had been ransacked by Howeley
and his helpers, and had provided an ample supply of good things. But
it was not the contents of the room that interested Tom; it was the
wall, the party wall, on the far side of which was the church.

"Listen," he said. "There!"

A glance at the rifleman's face was sufficient to show that he, too,
had gathered the full meaning of those blows.

"Can't get at us by fair means, as you might say, sir," he grunted,
"so they're agoing to break through the wall. It'll be a teaser to
hold 'em if they once get through."

"Couldn't be done," agreed Tom. "There's not room enough here for
more than four men. We should be driven back into the yard, and, of
course, an attack would be made in other quarters. It is a teaser!"

His face was drawn and stern as he retraced his footsteps, and
stopped to discuss the situation with Mr. Riley.

"Of course we could pile all the bales and boxes we could find
against this side of the wall," he said. "But that would not help
us; the peasants would pull them into the church. There's no way of
blocking up the passage either, and the difficulty of the situation
seems to be this: we have now another place to defend, and no men to
spare for the work. I think we shall have to try a sortie."

"Or retire up here and hold on to the last," said the naval
lieutenant, his face serious. "But they'd smoke us out, or burn the
whole place over our heads. I know well the temper of such men as
these. Harmless enough as a general rule, but demons now that they
are roused. They've suffered frightfully at the hands of the French,
and they have made up their minds to retaliate in the best way they
can. Well?"

"I'll see," answered Tom shortly. Turning on his heel, he went off
with Andrews, and clattered down the stairs to the yard. Yes, there
was nothing for it but to defend the upper story of the house, or----

"Or make for the church again," suggested Andrews, for our hero had
spoken his thoughts aloud. "You could clear out those fellows who are
working there in a twinkling, carry all the grub and wine in--and
there you are, as good as ever you were, and better."

"But with a wall still," said Tom dryly. "They could come in here
then, and knock the wall down just the same. We should have them
pouring in through the church door and through this other opening.
Still, there's a lot in the suggestion. Tell me, can you see anyone
elsewhere than in and around the village?"

They had mounted to the top of the house, and could obtain a clear
view. Both stared out in all directions, and kept silent for a few
minutes.

"Heaps at the village, sir," reported Andrews after a while. "A
few here and there, watching the surroundings. No big body of them
anywheres as I can see."

"Nor I; let's get below."

As if bent on a purpose, Tom led the way to the yard, and then dived
into the stable. There were the two nags they had seen when first
they established themselves in the place, contentedly munching at the
hay with which a thoughtful trooper had provided them. Tom pulled a
door open and entered the cart shed.

"Good!" he exclaimed. "Two of them--light carts too. Call Howeley and
his men."

The riflemen came plunging down at once, and stood at attention.

"Get the carts out and the horses harnessed in," Tom ordered. "When
that's done, load one of the carts with food. We shan't want water or
wine, though you can take a small cask of the latter. Don't overload.
Now you, my friend," he went on, addressing one of the troopers,
"hurry to the rooms above, and bring down a mattress and some
blankets. Quick with it!"

"You're going to--beg pardon, sir," began Andrews, using his
accustomed formula. "You ain't going to take French leave of them
beauties! Never!"

His smile told of his delight, and of his agreement with the order.

"Take my compliments to Mr. Riley and your own officer, and help them
both to descend," said Tom. "When they are safely in the cart on the
mattress I have ordered, and armed, Andrews----"

"Yes, sir."

"And armed with carbines, you get to the top of the building and look
about you carefully. If all's clear, let me know. Then slip down to
join us. Now, I'll collect the other men."

Very silently and swiftly did the troopers obey his orders. At an
earlier date they might very well have demurred and hesitated,
delaying, perhaps, to discuss the matter; for why should they give
obedience to one who was, nominally at least, their prisoner? But Tom
had won their confidence, and that is a great thing where troops are
concerned. They merely looked their surprise when ordered to repair
to the yard and mount their horses, while the man posted over the
church door bared his sabre, as if determined that no fault of his
should allow a slinking peasant to mount secretly and discover the
movement of the garrison.

"Wait till I call you," whispered Tom. "Then run down to the yard and
mount your horse. You understand?"

The fellow grinned at him, a grin of interest and friendship.

"_Parbleu!_ An enemy, he!" he grunted, spitting into the palm that
gripped his sabre. "By all the fiends, but I, Jacques, would welcome
the English as brothers."

The clatter of hoofs told of moving horses, or preparations down
below. Not that it was likely to disturb the enemy, for the horses
moved often enough, particularly when being watered. Men slipped
silently from their defensive posts and crept into the yard, while a
couple of brawny troopers bore the injured Jack to the cart, smiling
serenely at his angry protestations.

"Treat me as if I were a child," he growled, as Tom came into
hearing. "Who said I couldn't walk?"

"I'll leave you behind if you're a trouble," came the answer.
"Fiddlesticks, Jack!"

"Or cut his diet down," laughed Mr. Riley, who already lay on the
mattress placed on the cart. "That's it, my lad; cut his grub short.
That'll make our Jack less fiery. What's up?"

"Going for an airing," came the answer. "Now, men," said our hero,
addressing the troopers, who were mounted by now. "You'll fall in on
either side of the carts, which will be driven by two selected by
yourselves. Spare horses will be led by others. If I have it reported
that the coast is clear, we will throw the gates open and ride out.
A sharp trot once we reach the road will take us away from the
village. After that----"

"After that, monsieur?" asked one of the men eagerly.

"We will see. You are prisoners at this moment just as much as we
are. If we get through, perhaps we'll call it quits. You'll ride for
the army of France, and we for our comrades."

That brought a grin of pleasure to the bronzed faces of the men. They
would have cheered had not the need for silence been there. Instead,
they picked up their reins, and fell in on either side of the carts,
waiting for the signal to open the gates. Tom went back to the sentry
he had posted over the church doorway.

"All clear," was the report. "There is still knocking."

"Then get to your horse and mount. I am following."

Tom clambered once more into the yard, and looked up at the window
which Andrews occupied.

"All clear," came the gentle hail.

"Then fall in--time we were moving."

All were mounted within a minute, save Howeley, who stood at the
gates. "Open," called Tom.

"Open it is, sir," said the rifleman, throwing the gates wide at once.

"Forward!"

Steadily, and without sign of undue haste, the cavalcade rode from
the yard into the open, leaving a place which, though it had
revictualled them and offered excellent cover, might, were they to
hold it longer, lead to disaster. They moved away into the open in
regular order, the carts in their midst bearing their wounded and
their supplies with them as became good soldiers.

"Trot!" commanded Tom, and at the word the troop set their horses
into faster motion, Andrews at their head leading them off obliquely
towards a point where the road was accessible.

"Hear 'em!" ejaculated Jack, by no means dismayed, as a torrent of
yells and cries came from the village and from a number of points
about them. "They don't seem overpleased at our leaving."



CHAPTER X

The Great General


Marching from the building which had given them shelter, Tom and
his companions struck directly for the road that led away from the
hills, Andrews, in advance, standing in his stirrups so as to obtain
a better view of his surroundings. Jack watched operations from the
mattress placed in the cart, on which he had been placed, a most
unwilling prisoner, while the jovial naval lieutenant sat up, his
back propped against the side of the cart, and surveyed matters
generally from the standpoint of a man who is well satisfied with all
that is happening.

"Couldn't be better, couldn't," he observed to the disconsolate Jack;
"and hark ye, me lad, for all your grousing I know that you feel the
same. Tom's done magnificently; few would have done as well."

It was just what might have been expected of the amiable, if
hot-tempered, Jack that he should acquiesce warmly.

"Grandly," he agreed. "Of course one wonders what one would have done
oneself under the circumstances, and it's wretchedly unlucky being
winged, and having to look on like a child."

"Better than being chopped to pieces at any rate," came the swift
answer. "Besides, we're not out of the wood yet. We've to get away
from these mountains, and there's still that narrow valley through
which we galloped on our way to the place where the real attack was
made. I shall be surprised if we get through without meeting with
more of the peasants."

There was always that hazard, and as Tom looked about him, riding at
the tail of the procession, he was bound to admit that matters still
looked gloomy.

"There's no way out of the place but by the road," he said to
Howeley, who rode beside him. "Of course we could abandon the horses
and take to the hills, but then----"

"Wounded and stores, sir," came the respectful interruption.
"Couldn't be done, sir."

"Out of the question, I agree--so on we have to go. To turn the other
way would take us back to the village, and then there wouldn't be any
reaching the church or other fort as we have done. No, on we have to
go. Those peasants are following, and I see scattered groups about
us."

The wretched Portuguese who had attacked the troop of horse had
indeed taken many precautions to prevent their prey escaping them.
Not that the idea had occurred to them that Tom and his men would
have the audacity to leave a place that provided a fairly safe haven,
and which in any case gave such shelter that more than once attack
on the part of the peasants had failed. But, for fear of one of
the troopers venturing to ride away for help, they had posted bands
of their comrades round about the church, placing a number on the
road, and causing others to march to that narrow part that shut in
the wider portion of the valley, and through which fugitives must
pass. For half an hour Andrews led the cavalcade forward at a smart
pace. He turned on reaching the road, and then pushed along it, the
troopers clattering behind him, and riding on either side of the
carts. Suddenly his hand went up, bringing the procession to a halt,
while Tom galloped up to join him.

"A hundred of the enemy in front, sir," the rifleman reported. "They
seem to be blocking the road with a cart, and are stationed behind
it."

"While men are racing after us from the village," observed our hero.
"Looks ugly, Andrews."

"A hole, sir; but we've been in one as deep and deeper."

"True," agreed Tom; "and we'll climb out of this. Let me have a look
at them for a while. We'll move along again at a trot till just out
of musket shot. By then I'll have made up my mind how to treat them."

He rode on beside the rifleman, his eyes fixed upon the enemy in
front. Shouts came from the latter, while a number could be seen
standing behind a cart which had been upset across the narrow road.
At this precise point, in fact, the rugged hills on either side,
hills for which Portugal is notorious, converged abruptly, forming
as it were a doorway to that end of the valley. The rocky walls ran
along within thirty feet of one another for perhaps a hundred yards,
and then suddenly broke away again, making the entrance to another
valley. Not that one could see the latter, for there was a sharp bend
in the cleft between the hills. But Tom remembered the surroundings.

"Ugly place," he told Andrews. "Looks as if the two hills were joined
at one time, and then were broken apart. Once through, we have a wide
valley to cross, and then another place such as this, but shorter
and wider. So if we manage this job we'll do the other. Now for
skirmishers."

He swung round on the troop, and with a sign drew all the men toward
him. Then selecting eight men, whom he had noticed to be more active
than their fellows, he spoke quickly to them, so that they and their
comrades could hear.

"Listen, friends," he said. "Behind us the villagers are coming
up as fast as their legs can carry them. In front there is this
obstruction. Do as I order, and you will see that we shall quickly
clear the peasants out. You eight men will divide, and four will go
to either side. We are hardly within musket shot yet, so that I shall
approach closer. When I signal, hand your reins to your comrades,
take your carbines, and make off on to the hill. Clamber up and along
till you outflank those fellows opposite; then shoot them down. We
will do the same from the front. Understand?"

"_Oui, monsieur_," came in a chorus.

"Then on we go."

Tom led them forward at a foot pace, till bullets began to strike
the road at his feet, and the distance was so short between the
combatants that he could see the enemy easily. He came to a sudden
halt and waved his hand. Then, without waiting to watch the troopers
told off for special duty, he called to the man driving the store
cart to come forward.

"Dismount," he ordered abruptly. "Now turn the cart and horse round.
Good! Back the cart steadily towards the enemy. My lads, half a dozen
of you will ride after the cart, shooting from behind its shelter.
Better still, let three dismount. There will still be enough men left
to lead the horses, or you can hitch the reins to the second cart.
Yes, that will be better. Let the whole six dismount; then, with the
cart to shelter you, you will be able to do something with these
people."

A couple of minutes before, a casual glance at the troopers forming
the escort to the two carts would have shown doubt on many of the
sun-burnt faces; for the difficulty which confronted the fugitives
both before and behind was great. That in front seemed almost
insuperable, and, seeing it, more than one of the men wondered
whether, after all, this was to be the end of their adventure, if
here the peasants would hem them in and slaughter them. But Tom's
brisk orders and the novelty of his suggestions set them smiling.

"_Peste!_ But this Englishman has brains," grunted one of them,
swinging himself swiftly out of his saddle. "These Portuguese
peasants are pudding-headed beside him. One moment ago and I thought
that the end was near, that I and Strasbourg would see one another no
more. Now the path is easier for us--you will see these demons run."

But that had yet to be proved. Massed behind the upturned cart, and
already pouring shot at the troopers, the band of peasants hooted
and shouted in triumph. They hardly seemed to notice the eight
troopers who broke from the ranks of the little procession; for at
that moment the store cart was swung round, and the process of slowly
backing it towards the enemy began. That operation attracted their
whole attention, and soon bullets were thudding against the barrel
of wine, tearing a way into the midst of the hams loaded on the
cart, or smashing the jars of preserves which the excellent padre's
housekeeper had set aside for him. Some went to either side--for the
peasants were not first-class shots--while others pelted underneath,
passing between the legs of the horse, splashing against the road,
and sending little spurts of dust into the eyes of the troopers. The
latter made excellent use of the cover. Two were bent double beneath
the cart, and already their carbines were cracking sharply. A third
lay on the stores, his head shielded by a wooden box which was
filled with sugar, while the remainder walked on either side of the
horse, leaning outward and firing whenever an opportunity occurred.

Tom called the remaining troopers about him, and bade them make ready
for a charge.

"Once our fellows get on the hill above and outflank them we'll
gallop forward," he said. "Ride at the upturned cart. Swing when you
get near, and pass in behind. Once we have those rascals moving we'll
keep them on the run. So chase them right through to the valley, and
there halt till we come up. Ah! Our boys are getting to work. There
go their carbines."

The attack was not one that could be made hurriedly, for a horse
cannot be backed at a fast pace, and then the ground to be covered by
the men sent to outflank the enemy was steep and difficult. Indeed,
had the peasants but posted a few of their own men on either hand
they could have at once put a stop to such a movement. But it had
never crossed their minds that Tom and his men would force this
natural gateway. They imagined that they would come to a halt, and
that presently, on the arrival of their comrades from the village,
the troopers and their English friends would be cut down to a man.
That, in fact, was what would have happened had they delayed. But
the flanking party scrambled rapidly into position, while the store
cart advanced steadily and persistently, the shots from the troopers
sheltering behind it causing havoc amongst the Portuguese. Tom
allowed five minutes to elapse, and then, waving a sabre overhead,
led Andrews and Howeley and the two or three troopers still remaining
against the barricade. Cramming his heels into the flanks of his
horse, he sent him down the road at breakneck speed. Swinging past
the cart where the troopers were sheltering, he dashed at the
obstruction behind which the peasants stood, and, swinging again,
burst in on the far side. Andrews and Howeley followed with great
dash, while the French troopers were not a yard behind them. And
then began a furious struggle. Men slashed desperately at them with
scythes, others attempted to unhorse the riders, while a few dived in
with the intention of killing the animals. But those swinging sabres
beat them off. Already the bullets of the attackers had had some
effect, particularly the galling shots of the flanking party. For a
moment the issue hung in the balance. Then the men who had fired from
behind the cart came up at a run, and instantly the peasants bolted,
the three troopers and Howeley galloping after them and keeping them
on the run. Perhaps two minutes later the blare of a trumpet was
heard in front, and then the clatter of drums. While Tom stared at
the retreating peasants, and at the forms of his own men, some twenty
or thirty gaily uniformed lancers rode into view, blocking the far
end of the pass. The long lances were lifted from their rests as Tom
looked. The pennons fluttered, and then down came the points. A
second later an officer rode to the front of these lancers.

"Ah!" gasped Andrews, gaping at them.

"_Ma foi!_" growled one of the Frenchmen at Tom's elbow.

"English--hooray, they're our boys!" came in high-pitched tones from
the cart in which Jack and the naval officer were accommodated, and
which had been driven up to the scene of the conflict. Upright on
the mattress on which he should have been lying stood Jack, wobbling
badly, shrieking his delight at the top of his voice. As for Mr.
Riley, perspiration covered his forehead and streamed down his face.
He held out a hand as they came nearer, signalled to Tom, and gripped
his with a feeling there was no misunderstanding.

"Gallantly done, lad!" he cried. "You've pulled us out of the wood.
The coming of the lancers has nothing to do with the matter, though
it'll help to make things comfortable. Boys, three cheers for Mr.
Clifford!"

They gave them with a heartiness there was no denying. French and
English joined in the shouts till the rocky walls echoed back the
cheers a hundred times. And then all became of a sudden quiet and
sober. For those thirty lancers were followed by a hundred perhaps,
bringing the fleeing peasants to a sudden halt and causing some of
them to attempt the feat of clambering away on either hand. A minute
later the ranks of the lancers opened, and through the open files
came a number of horsemen. Tom found himself watching their approach
with something akin to fear, for mounted on a magnificent horse which
led the procession was a tall officer of high rank without doubt,
who rode through the muttering and beaten peasants as if they did
not exist. A stern, clean-shaven face was turned in Tom's direction,
while the pair of deep-set eyes that flanked a wonderfully hooked
nose peered out from beneath a cocked hat at the little band which
our hero had led so successfully.

It was Wellington without a doubt, the general who had led our
troops so brilliantly in the Peninsula, who had seen fighting in
many a place, and had won in far-off India a reputation there was no
denying. It was the great Lord Wellington, and with him his chief of
the staff, aides-de-camp, and other officers, a glittering throng,
gold-braided and medalled, all silently observing Tom and his little
party. As for the latter, our hero was almost too astounded even to
think, while his followers, conscious of the rank of those who looked
at them, and indeed, of the presence of Wellington himself, fell in
just behind our hero, shouldered their weapons, and drew themselves
up as became good soldiers. Yes, British and French, at war with one
another in the Peninsula, but friends in this particular part of it,
drew themselves up proudly, as men who had no cause to feel ashamed.
Slowly a smile swept across the face of the general.

"I see," he said, so that all could hear. "We have here a little
adventure worth hearing. Who is in command of this party?"

Mr. Riley pushed his way to the front, having clambered from the cart
with difficulty. Saluting the general, he pointed to Tom.

"That gentleman, sir, is in command," he said steadily.

"And these?" asked the general instantly, indicating the French
troopers, with a smile.

"We were their prisoners till a few moments ago. We were taken at
sea, landed in this neighbourhood, and taken off by a troop of
cavalry. The peasants attacked us suddenly, the officers were shot
down, and Mr. Clifford at once took command. I wish to report that
he has behaved splendidly. He and the riflemen have been the life
and soul of our party. But the troopers behaved most handsomely, and
obeyed orders as if they were our men. It is a good story, sir."

"And one we will hear," came the instant answer. "Er, Lieutenant----"

"Riley, sir."

"Ah, Lieutenant, I'm pleased to meet you. We shall camp in this
valley, and you will give me the pleasure of dining with me to-night
and of bringing your comrades. Mr. Clifford, I think you said."

The naval officer beckoned our hero forward and introduced him
formally. Then he took the general to Jack's side, making him known
also. As for Andrews and Howeley, they were beaming in a moment, for
Wellington did them the honour of shaking their hands, while smiles
broke across the countenances of the French troopers when he halted
before them.

"You have an interpreter?" he asked Mr. Riley.

"Mr. Clifford, sir."

"Then repeat what I say, if you please, Mr. Clifford. Tell them I
am delighted to hear that they have fought side by side instead of
against us, and that they shall be well treated and their conduct
reported to their own commanders. Tell them that."

Tom promptly interpreted the words, causing the Frenchmen to flush
with pride.

"And now for these wretched peasants," began Wellington, turning
to the spot where some fifty of the latter cowered, wondering what
was to be done with them. "I presume it is much the same tale as we
have had before? Reprisals attempted because of the brutality of the
French. Hundreds of these poor fools against a handful of armed men.
A sudden attack and a narrow escape. Well, we'll sign to them to be
off. There's no interpreter with us just now."

"Pardon, sir," burst in Mr. Riley. "Mr. Clifford speaks the language."

"What? Let me hear him."

Blunt and abrupt in speech, there was something kind nevertheless in
the tones of the general, and at once Tom went to the Portuguese and
told them they might depart. When he returned he found Wellington
looking at him with strange intensity.

"You are a civilian, sir," he asked, "and speak French and
Portuguese?"

"Badly, sir, I'm afraid," smiled our hero. "Also I can get along with
Spanish."

"Ah! And make yourself as well understood as in the other two
languages?"

"Better, perhaps, sir. My relatives are Spanish."

"And you are a civilian and wish to remain one?"

The eyes looking Tom up and down so closely gleamed. Did they twinkle
ever so little? Did this general, whose name was famous throughout
many countries, guess at the martial spirit that filled Tom's breast?
If he did, no one could do more than guess the fact, for the features
never altered. The eyes merely twinkled, and that ever so little.

"A pity," said the general. "You would have made a----"

Flesh and blood could not endure such temptation. Here was the
opportunity of his life, and Tom took it with open hands.

"I'm meant for a stool in Oporto, sir," he said. "But I'd give a heap
to earn a commission."

"Come to dinner to-night," was the answer he received, while
Wellington swung his horse round and rode on through the ranks
of the French troopers. But he did not forget our hero, for that
very evening, after dinner was over, and the remains of the
somewhat frugal meal in which he was wont to indulge had been
removed, Wellington called for candles with which to illuminate the
headquarters tent, and then bade Mr. Riley tell the story of the
adventure. Then he swung round on Tom and eyed him again in a manner
that made the young man's heart sink to the depths of his boots.
What wonder that the lad who had so bravely led the troopers should
tremble under the gaze of Wellington. For this famous general was
no ordinary man. The clean-shaven, sharply-cut features showed a
determination that was extraordinary and which of itself attracted
attention. His short, jerky sentences, however kindly meant, had a
way of alarming his juniors, while the severity of his features,
his exalted rank, the tremendous responsibilities resting on the
shoulders of this man, made him almost awe inspiring. Tom had nothing
to be ashamed of. Officers of senior rank out there in the Peninsula,
and elsewhere, both before and after this historic conflict, trembled
under the gaze of the brilliant tactician. Then why not Tom? But a
smile crossing the face of the general reassured him.

"So you were meant for a stool in Oporto and found yourself a
prisoner," began the general, putting down the glass from which he
had just taken a sip of wine, "and seem to have fallen naturally into
the life of a soldier. Let me add, too, you have done wonderfully
well. That I can gather even without the tale which Lieutenant Riley
has given me. You have shown discretion and sharpness, sir. The
army needs officers with discretion, and, I am proud to say, has
them. She needs, too, officers who are linguists. More than all she
wants officers able to speak one or more of the languages essential
to this campaign, and who have in addition the capacity to command
men. Mr. Clifford, my greatest difficulty in this campaign is that of
obtaining reliable information. Will you help me?"

Help a general! Help Wellington, the great duke who had defeated the
French now on so many occasions! The bare suggestion made Tom flush.
But the gallant officer addressing him was serious enough.

"Come," he said. "I want an officer for special service. He shall
be posted to my staff, and his special work will be to gather an
escort of the natives of Portugal or of Spain about him. He will
seek for information as to the movements of the enemy. He will
make sudden raids where necessary, and if occasion suggests it he
shall even enter the camps of the French and gather full tidings.
It is a dangerous task. It may mean wounds or death. The danger of
imprisonment is very great. Also, if the duties be carried out with
discretion and boldness, it means honour and promotion. Mr. Clifford,
I am happy to offer you a commission as an ensign, unattached at
present, to date from the day when you were taken by the French. My
next dispatch home shall make mention of your name and of my wishes.
To-morrow evening general orders shall confirm this offer, while
the following evening shall see you promoted to lieutenant for this
recent action. Afterwards you will carry out the instructions which
shall be handed to you. Will you accept?"

Would he accept! Would Tom take the very thing for which he had
longed, and become one of the king's officers! He jumped at the
offer. His delight robbed him of the power of speech, so that he
could only mumble his thanks. He retired, in fact, from the presence
of the famous general with his head and brain in a whirl.

"Hearty congratulations," cried Lieutenant Riley, smacking him on the
back as soon as they reached their own quarters. "We'll tell Jack
now. Pity the pain in his leg sent him away from the general's before
this happened. Ha! we've news, Jack."

The ensign had retired early from the dinner, the excitement and
movement of the last two days having set up inflammation in his
wound, though in the case of the naval officer it seemed to have
actually done his injury good. Jack lay on a camp bed provided by the
surgeon, blinking in the light of a candle.

"Eh?" he asked, glancing sleepily at them.

"Look out for squalls, my boy."

"Why? Don't understand, sir."

"You soon will," laughed Mr. Riley. "Tom's an awful martinet, and
he's your senior."

It was all true enough, though our hero found difficulty in
understanding the matter. For the very next evening found an
announcement in General Orders. There was a short, flattering
reference to Lieutenant Riley and Jack. And then the following
words: "The commander-in-chief has pleasure in recommending that Mr.
Clifford be granted a commission in His Majesty's forces, for his
action when in temporary command of the French troopers attacked by
Portuguese peasants. Ensign Clifford is posted to the headquarters
staff."

The following evening found a second announcement. "Ensign Clifford,
headquarters staff, is recommended for promotion for gallantry in a
recent action."

"My uncle!" exclaimed Jack, when he read the orders, "you'll be a
full-blown general, Tom, before I'm a captain. Don't forget me,
that's all. I'd look awfully fine in the uniform of a staff officer."

"A general? Why not?" Tom asked himself as he rolled himself in a
blanket. "I'm young, young for the rank of lieutenant. I'm in the
midst of a glorious campaign. And owing to the fact that I can speak
Portuguese, French, and Spanish I'm to be engaged on special service.
Why not a general one of these days?"

He forgot to look on the other side. Forgot, with the usual
impetuosity and carelessness of youth, to reckon the risks to be run
in achieving such honours. But then Tom did not realize what was
before him. To begin with, he reckoned without José de Esteros, his
most unloving cousin, whom he imagined still in England.



CHAPTER XI

On Active Service


A crisp, cool breeze straight from the sea swept through the streets
of Oporto and fanned the brows of three horsemen who were riding in
from the country about ten in the morning some six weeks after the
events already narrated. A brilliant autumn sun shed its rays far and
wide, causing white walls and pavements to flash back shafts of light
which were almost blinding in their intensity, while the russet hues
of the foliage looked wonderfully bright and enchanting.

"Oporto at last!" exclaimed one of the three horsemen, a youth
dressed in the uniform of a staff officer. "At last!"

"And none too soon," came from his companion, riding at his knee.
"None too soon, Tom, my boy. Army rations are good enough when
there's nothing else to be had, but give me the sight of a town now
and again. There'll be dinners to be had, there'll be invitations
galore to the houses of the big people, dances, fêtes, everything you
can wish for or imagine."

Jack laughed uproariously, the happy laugh of a youth who is bent
on pleasure, and who is ready to enjoy all that comes his way. For
this was Jack Barwood, Ensign, of the 60th Rifles, attached for
special service to Lieutenant Tom Clifford's command. And the youth
who looked so well in the uniform of a staff officer was none other
than our hero. Respectfully in rear of them, precisely three horses'
length behind, rode the rifleman Andrews, as erect as any cavalry
soldier trained, his eyes glistening at the prospect of a rest in
Oporto, a bed to sleep in, and all the entertainment a city promised.

"And work," interjected Tom, when Jack had finished speaking. "All
play and no work makes Jack a bad soldier. Eh?"

Jack made reply by snatching at his sword and half-drawing it, while
he glared at his comrade. However it was all fun, and only a symptom
of good spirits. Jack was now in clover; but for that chance meeting
with our hero and the adventure which had followed he would have been
along with his regiment, then scattered by companies, and his lot
would have been very different. Instead he was appointed for special
service, than which there is nothing more eagerly sought by an
officer. He was Tom's right-hand man, his adviser if you like--though
Lieutenant Riley smiled satirically when that was suggested--his
adjutant when engaged with irregulars.

Jack had, in fact, in spite of his want of seriousness, been of great
service to our hero. For, with the help of Andrews, he had instructed
him in the customary duties of an officer and had taught him more
than a smattering of drill.

"Just enough to let you manoeuvre the irregulars you are to command,"
he had assured Tom, with a laugh. "You can't expect always to carry
out an adventure like that we passed through with nothing but cheek
to help you. Knowledge is wanted, my boy! I'll be the one to give it
to you."

One could hardly have imagined a worse instructor; but when it came
to the point Jack had proved an excellent fellow, and very soon,
thanks to his tuition, Tom found himself able to drill a company with
ease, and to understand how a battalion could be manoeuvred. It took
but a short while for him to grip other points particular to an army:
how it was split up into divisions, consisting of so many brigades
in each case, and how those brigades were made up of battalions,
each, of course, boasting of a certain number of companies. As for a
command, Tom had not been long in finding one.

"You will endeavour to enlist Portuguese and Spanish irregulars,"
the chief of Wellington's staff had told him. "We leave it to you to
suggest a plan; but, of course, your main work will be to seek out
information concerning the enemy."

"I'm wondering----" began Tom that very evening, when he and Jack lay
beneath the same tent.

"Eh? Don't!" came the facetious and grinning answer. "Don't, my boy;
your brain'll not stand it."

"Seriously, though," Tom went on, ignoring his friend's good-natured
raillery.

"Of course; you're always serious. Well, you're wondering; and I'm
wondering why you're wondering instead of getting off to sleep. It's
a beast of a night, raining cats and dogs, and a chap needs to sleep
to escape the blues."

"It would do you good to be out with our pickets then," cried Tom
warmly, irritated by his friend. "I've a good mind to send you off
with a message to----"

That brought Jack sitting upright with a jerk. After all, Tom was his
senior, ridiculous though it did appear, and if he carried out such a
threat, why, Jack must perforce obey, though such a thing as an order
had never yet come from his friend.

"You were wondering--yes," he jerked out hurriedly.

"Whether I should ride back to that village where we had that fight
with the peasants. I'm ordered to enlist irregulars. I propose having
a band here in Portugal and one in Spain, close to the border. We all
know that the two peoples don't agree very well. There are continual
jealousies between them; but they would work together on occasions.
I propose going to that village to enlist the Portuguese part of my
command."

The suggestion took Jack's breath away and filled him with horror.

"What! They'd tear you to pieces," he exclaimed. "It's madness.
It's----"

"I shall ride there to-morrow," said Tom, cutting him short. "You can
stay behind if you're nervous."

And off they went, with Andrews their only escort. Riding into the
village over the heaped-up mound which marked the spot where the
peasants had dug a trench to arrest the French troopers, Tom and
Jack were greeted most respectfully. None recognized in the handsome
staff officer the leader of the troopers, nor in his smart brother
officer the young fellow who was with him, and who had barely even
now recovered from the wound inflicted. Tom rode direct to the house
of the mayor, and dropped from his saddle. And then had followed an
exciting incident. When he spoke, the people recognized him. Men
rushed to the spot howling threats. Weapons appeared as if by magic,
and for a while it looked as if, in spite of their being English, the
little party would be cut to pieces. But here again Tom showed his
mettle; not once did he betray concern.

"I make no excuses," he said sternly. "What we did was forced on us;
but I have come back to bury old scores and to offer a favour to you."

His unconcern alone won him friends at once, while the memory of how
he had treated those men who had descended to the courtyard and had
been hemmed in there told in his favour. Where a minute earlier men
had shrieked at him, they now smiled and lifted their caps--more
than that, many were eager to do service. Thus it came about that
within three days Tom had as many hundred _Cacadores_, or Portuguese
irregulars, drilling close to the British army, on ground specially
allotted to them, while within six weeks he had set off for Oporto
for the special purpose of arranging for a similar party of Spaniards.

"It's work that you can look forward to, Jack," he repeated, as they
came to the outskirts of Oporto. "I haven't ridden in here for the
sole purpose of eating big dinners and dancing with all the fairest
girls in Oporto. I'm here on business, your business, the British
army's business, and don't you forget it!"

Jack screwed his face up as if he were disgusted.

"But," he began, "there'll----"

"Be time for fun--perhaps," agreed Tom. "But business first. I shall
ride direct for the house of Juan de Esteros and Septimus John
Clifford & Son."

"Of Oporto."

"And of London--wine merchants. Don Juan's my uncle; I'm looking
forward to the meeting. Wonder if he'll have news of the folks at
home?"

Men stepped aside to look at the two young officers, lifting
their caps; city people raised a cheer more than once as they
recognized the uniform of a staff officer; while often enough a
handkerchief fluttered from some window as Tom and Jack walked
their horses through the city. There was abundant evidence, in
fact, of the popularity of the British; and had our heroes cared
for entertainment, and possessed the time, they could have spent
a year passing from one hospitable house to another. Everyone was
glad to see them. Everyone!--no. There was one exception, though
he passed unnoticed amongst the crowds. A face peeped out from the
window of a hovel that was squeezed in at the corner of a square
which Tom and Jack were just entering, while the limbs of the owner
of that face writhed and twisted incessantly. A thin, weak hand
played with the corner of a weak mouth, while a scowl of hatred lined
a narrow forehead. The young man--for he was but little older than
Tom--stretched out a little farther, so as to obtain a better view of
the officers riding before him, and then ducked back out of sight.

"Tom Clifford!" he hissed. "He in Oporto! Safe from the sea, and an
officer! Ah!"

The scowl deepened, for the moment was a bitter one for José. Yes,
it was José de Esteros, whom we saw last in London, the scheming
vindictive nephew to whom John Clifford had given a home for many
a year, and who had rewarded his uncle after such a manner. It was
the sneaking youth who had procured Tom's impressment, and who had
schemed and schemed so that, one of these days, he might become the
head of the firm of Septimus John Clifford & Son. It was, in fact,
the ruffian who hoped to break through that old tradition of the firm
owned by his uncle, and deprive it of the son who, following unbroken
custom, should succeed.

"Tom Clifford!" he gasped again. "An officer too! How? And in Oporto!
Why?"

A guilty conscience supplied the answer promptly. It was for his
arrest that Tom had come without a doubt, and here again was added
injury. Let us realize the position of affairs exactly. Far from
being sorry for the rascally action he had undertaken, José vented
the whole of his own displeasure on Tom's unconscious head. He had
always been jealous of our hero. He hated him now because of the
failure of the wicked scheme which should have ruined him, and hated
him still more because retribution and discovery had come so soon.
Indeed, Tom had scarcely reached the ship after his impressment
when Huggins, John Clifford's faithful clerk, had unravelled the
conspiracy, and had compelled the ruffian who had captured him to
admit the fact. And José had had a near escape of being sent to
prison; for with the unravelling of the conspiracy came the knowledge
that he had robbed his uncle. But this wretched youth was as crafty
as he was sneaking. Swift to detect discovery, he had once more
robbed his uncle and had departed. A ship sailing that very evening
for Oporto took him aboard, and within a week José de Esteros had
presented himself at his uncle's, at Don Juan de Estero's house,
where the Portuguese branch of the famous firm of Septimus John
Clifford & Son was established. And there he had remained for two
months, giving it out that his cousin had run away from home, and
that he, José, had been sent to take his place. Cleverly intercepting
the frantic letters which John Clifford wrote, José kept up the
deception till, one fine morning, the faithful Huggins landed and
appeared at the office. Then José ran again and hid himself in the
hovels of the city. It was in one of these that he was located on the
morning of Tom's entry, engaged, one may be sure, in further rascally
schemes which the unexpected arrival of his cousin at once gave zest
to.

"Tom Clifford here!" he again ejaculated, crouching behind the
window. "Then here's a chance to go on with the matter. Because I
failed once, it won't be for always; I've a splendid game before me."

The shaking fingers went to his thin lips again, while his limbs
writhed and seemed to knot themselves together.

"I'll kill him!" José hissed, as Tom began to pass out of his vision.
"Yes, and I'll make use of the information which Don Juan gave me.
Ha, ha! It makes me smile. He took me into his confidence. Told me
of his riches, of the wealth his son would have. He's my cousin too,
like Tom. Why shouldn't I have their share from both sides of the
family?"

The pale features of this half-Spaniard wrinkled into a smile that
was more sardonic than anything. The thin, writhing fingers played
about the corners of his mouth, while the pair of bright and somewhat
protruding eyes which a second before had been fixed upon the
stalwart form of Andrews, then the only one of the three horsemen
remaining visible, lost themselves in a vacant gaze. In those few
following seconds José saw himself powerful and rich, head of a
prosperous old firm, a partner of the business in the place of his
cousin Tom, successor to his Uncle Juan's riches.

Let us turn from the contemplation of a youth so devoid of all that
was pleasant and taking--José was born with a kink, a moral kink, if
you will--let us leave him with it and follow Tom and his comrade.
But in doing so let us remember that though José might be weak, he
was yet a force to be reckoned with, a force, had Tom but known it,
likely enough to come between him and those much-cherished ambitions.
José might easily intervene between the gallant and handsome staff
officer whom he called cousin and that post in the army to which
youthful good spirits and assurance caused him to aspire.

"The way to the house of Septimus John Clifford & Son, _señor_,"
answered a man of whom Tom made an enquiry. "There are few in this
city who do not know the name and the house. Pass directly on till
you enter another square, then turn to the left, descending toward
the water. The house is on the right, some little distance down."

There it was at last. Jack pulled in his horse at the sight, while
his estimation of our hero went up a little. For to the high and
mighty Jack trade was trade, something at which he was rather wont
to turn up his nose. It was purely ignorance of the world that made
him do so; for to do him but justice the young ensign was no snob.
And here he found himself in front of an enormous range of buildings,
with warehouses and stores running right down to the water. Over the
main building flew the flag of England, with that of Portugal close
beside it, while a board of modest proportions announced the fact
that this was the home of Septimus John Clifford & Son.

Tom slid from his saddle, handed his reins over to Andrews, and went
striding up the steps of the building, his sword and sabretache
swaying at his side. A very gallant figure he cut too as he entered
the office and enquired for Don Juan de Esteros.

"What name?" he was asked.

"Say a British officer," he responded, and presently was ushered
into a handsomely furnished office. A little man, bearing traces of
obvious ill health, rose from a chair, and at once advanced with hand
cordially outstretched.

"This is an honour," he said in broken English, mingled with a word
of Portuguese. "To what do I owe the visit? What can I do for you,
sir? But surely----"

As he gripped Tom's hand he peered through his spectacles into his
face, while a flush suddenly suffused his own olive complexion.

"I am your nephew," said our hero abruptly, speaking Spanish and
smiling at his uncle. "Very much at your service."

A shout escaped Don Juan. He went to a door leading from the back
of the room and called loudly. A minute later a familiar figure
burst into the room and rushed at Tom. It was Septimus John Clifford
himself, fatter than ever perhaps, rosy-faced, but active. The
meeting between father and son can be imagined. They gripped hands
and stood staring at one another for perhaps five seconds.

"Well!" at last John gasped, standing away from his son. "A handsome
figure you cut, Tom. A soldier, eh?"

"On General Lord Wellington's staff, sir."

"And mighty well you'll do, sir," came the answer. "Mighty proud I
am of you. I've heard the tale. It's barely thirty hours since I set
foot in Portugal, and who should I meet but Lieutenant Riley, who was
just about to embark for England. We dined together. He talked, sir.
Yes, he made me feel proud. Tom, the business can still be carried on
with one of its partners in the army. I'm proud of you, lad."

Septimus John Clifford had a long tale to tell his son, and it was
half an hour later before our hero recollected that he had left
Jack waiting outside. By then he had learned all that had happened
during his absence from England. How José's cruel conspiracy had
been discovered. How in course of time a report had come through the
Admiralty telling of Tom's impressment, of the action at sea, and of
his behaviour. And then had followed silence. The ship on which he
should have reached Oporto failed to put in an appearance. Reference
to the French failed to discover news, and John Clifford was reduced
again to the depths of despair, imagining that Tom had gone to the
bottom of the sea with his comrades.

"Then there was the case of José, your cousin," he said severely. "He
acted like a hound all through, and but for Huggins would have done
us further injury. Imagine the duplicity and cunning of the rascal.
He presented himself to your uncle here as your successor. He wormed
himself artfully into his regard, intercepted all our letters, and
finally bolted, having once more stolen all that he could lay his
hands on. The news of his vileness brought me out here, and contrary
winds delayed me till the night before last. Then, and only then, did
I hear of you, my boy, and of all that you have been doing."

He stood away from our hero again and inspected him with obvious
pride, while Don Juan peered through his spectacles at the young
staff officer whom he called nephew.

"A fine soldier, John," he ventured. "A good leader, by all accounts."

"And come here to let us see him. What brought you, sir?" asked John.

"Business," said Tom crisply. "But let me call in my friend and
adjutant. We have business with Don Juan."

The meeting with Jack was most cordial, and presently all four were
seated in the office.

"Now," said Don Juan.

"We came to ask for your help," began Tom.

"If it's money you want, lad, as is only natural, why you shall have
plenty," burst in John.

"It's men," answered our hero. "I want to raise a small force of
Spaniards, and I want also a leader to act under my orders, on whom I
can at once rely."

It was wonderful with what enthusiasm the two older gentlemen
received this information. Don Juan pulled off his glasses and then
pushed them back again on to his nose. He got up from his seat and
paced backwards and forwards, and later suddenly faced the two
officers.

"You want a command composed of Spaniards; I can lay my hand on
such a force," he said. "Alfonso, my son, is now in Spain, within
easy distance of Madrid, and, were I to command him, could raise a
force there. But the men of the towns are not to be relied on. For
guerrillas you could have none better than the mountaineers living on
the frontier between Spain and Portugal."

"Just so," agreed Tom promptly. "Hardier and braver, sir."

"Precisely," came the answer; "and with this, added to their natural
feelings of patriotism, they will be led by the son of the man on
whose estate they work, and will have in supreme command that son's
cousin, a British officer on the staff of no less a person than
General Lord Wellington himself."

The little man skipped about the room in his enthusiasm, and forgot
for the moment the decorum usually expected of a sedate business man.
He snapped his fingers in his glee, and winked and blinked at Tom and
at the company generally through his glasses.

"Alfonso shall call them up and command them," he cried; "Tom
Clifford, of the firm of Septimus John Clifford & Son, shall be in
supreme command. How's that for an arrangement? No trouble about pay
either, Tom. I'll see to that; I've abundance with which to pay every
one of the following."

The suggestion almost took Septimus Clifford's breath away. The stout
little head of the old and extremely respectable business firm looked
across at the jubilant little man, who for many a year had conducted
the affairs of the firm in Portugal and Spain, as if he considered
him mad. He gasped for breath, polished his bald head with a huge
silk handkerchief of brilliant red colour, and blew heavily, puffing
out his cheeks.

"What!" he exclaimed, pointing a fat finger at Don Juan. "You will
place a force at Tom's disposal. You will call up the men on your
estate, and will put your only son in command."

"Why not, sir?" Don Juan flashed out the question, and then smiled at
his partner. "Why not? A pretty person you are, to be sure! You ask
in one breath whether I will do this thing, knowing that my country
is overrun by France, yet in the previous breath you sing praises
because your only son, the son who should represent the firm, is on
Lord Wellington's staff. Moreover, you gloated horribly over the
details of the fighting in which he took a prominent part, and which
were given you by that naval officer."

A condemnatory finger was pointed at Septimus John Clifford. Don Juan
regarded him severely for some moments, and then smiled and snapped
his fingers.

"Come," he said; "the affairs of our business lose significance when
compared with the dangers of this country and the efforts of your
soldiers. Tom asks for Spanish irregulars; he shall have them. He
asks for a commander; Alfonso is the lad. Eh? You don't dare deny it."

Septimus did not. In his heart he was delighted, and, like the
sensible, long-headed man he was, he promptly sat down to discuss
ways and means. As for Tom and Jack, they spent three days in the
city, and then, accompanied by a guide, set off for the Spanish
frontier.

"You will be met there by Alfonso," said Don Juan. "I have sent a man
across to him, and he will be at the estate as soon as you are. Here
is a letter for him, and you will find that he will give you every
assistance, and will fall into this scheme with eagerness."

Some three days later found our two heroes at the estate belonging to
Don Juan, where they were joined a day later by Alfonso. He rode up
on a big mule, and dropped from his saddle at the porch of the house.
A fine, frank young fellow he proved to be.

"Glad to meet you, señors," he cried. "Which is my cousin?"

"You speak English?" asked Tom, when the greetings were over.

"Not a word; but Portuguese, of course."

"Then Jack must hurry up with his lessons," grinned Tom; for his
adjutant, with that perverseness common to many English lads, hated
languages. Too full, perhaps, of insular pride, he imagined that
his own tongue should carry him everywhere, and that foreigners
should promptly contrive to add English to theirs, rather than
that he should be bothered to master any language beyond his own.
A perverseness, one may call it, a perverseness that gives the
foreigner an enormous opportunity, and in these days of easy transit
and of broadened interests, is telling against the Englishman. The
polyglot Britisher of to-morrow will advance better and farther than
will the man of to-day who is ignorant of all other languages than
his own. However, Jack was not the one to be stupid, and, indeed,
for quite a while had been struggling with French, Portuguese, and
Spanish.

The four weeks which followed were busy ones for the three young
fellows. First the men of the estate had to be called up, together
with others living in the neighbourhood.

"We want three hundred, so as to match those in Portugal," said Tom.
"It will be as well also to have a reserve, who can go on training
in our absence. I shall do the same with the men we have raised in
Portugal, and, as it seems that the two forces are at this moment
separated by only some fifty miles, there will be no need to move
nearer. But we must enlist the help of men living between us.
It will not be difficult to devise signals, such as fires on the
hilltops, which will warn either party or will summon one to join the
other."

The end of the month found Alfonso's particular command sufficiently
trained for active work. No large amount of drill was given them;
but they were able to perform simple movements, and, at Jack's
suggestion, worked at the call of a whistle. One long call would see
their bivouacs broken, their knapsacks swung over their shoulders,
and each man in his place in the ranks, his musket at his shoulder.
Consisting of three hundred men, they were divided into companies
a hundred strong, for each of which a reliable leader was found.
Moreover, Tom had no fault to find with the formation when those
companies were drawn up for inspection.

"Smartness on parade is all very well, and good for discipline,"
he said, whereat Jack grinned his approval, "but it won't win
engagements, and the engagements we are likely to be in don't require
rigid lines. Try 'em with two long whistles."

Alfonso had barely given the signals when the companies broke up as
if by magic and re-formed at once into small squares, with some fifty
paces between them.

"For cavalry," said Jack, approval in his voice. "If they've courage,
and will stand fast, cavalry will have little terror for them. If
they break----"

"Every man would be cut to pieces, _señor_," said Alfonso. "That is
a thing they know. I trust soon that we may have an opportunity of
testing their courage."

It happened that such an opportunity came almost instantly, on the
very morning when Tom and Jack were to return to Portugal. A couple
of French squadrons burst suddenly upon the little command when
engaged at drill, and galloped down upon them. For one moment there
was confusion in the ranks; then Tom's cheery voice was heard, while
Alfonso sounded his whistle.

"Get to the farthest square," Tom shouted at Jack. "I'll take the
centre with Andrews, while Alfonso goes to the third. Our presence
will hearten the men."

Clapping spurs to their horses' flanks they galloped to their posts,
and, dismounting within each square, turned to face the enemy.

"Hold your fire till I shout," commanded Tom. "Let those who are
kneeling reserve their fire till the men standing above them have
opened upon the enemy. Have no fear, boys--double that strength of
the enemy could not harm you."

But in spite of his assurance he had some qualms. Other guerrilla
forces composed of Spaniards had thought to do well, and had faced
French cavalry; but they had broken at the critical moment, and had
been sabred to a man. Would these fine fellows follow suit, or would
they stand firm? Ah! A man at one of the corners rose from his knees
and looked wildly at the enemy. He dropped his musket as if it had
stung him, and then, doubling up as if he were a hare, set off from
the face of the square.

"Halt!" Tom bellowed. "You will be shot if you do not stop. Let the
three men at the corner aim at him and fire if he does not return
instantly."

There came a growl from many of the men. Two or three looked as if
they might follow the bad example set them. Then there was a sharp
report, followed by the fall of the coward who had bolted from the
square, and who had been deaf to Tom's orders.

"Form up there in the corner," he commanded, severely. "You see what
happens to a man who deserts his comrades. Let it be a lesson to all.
Make ready to fire; stand firm. We shall beat them."

Let those who have not tested the experience imagine what nerve it
must require to stand shoulder to shoulder in the open and see a
horde of horse and men galloping down upon you. The animals take on
a stature wonderfully enlarged--they seem even more ferocious than
their riders--sabres whirl and appear to stretch far in advance, so
as to reach easily an enemy. The situation brings for the instant a
feeling of helplessness, one calculated to disturb the courage of the
boldest. Would Tom's little command and the men massed in the other
squares be proof against such an ordeal?

"Charge!" The loud command from the leader of the French squadrons
sent a flood of men and horse madly down upon them.



CHAPTER XII

Guarding the By-ways


Grouped together in three separate squares, Tom's Spanish command
awaited the onset of the French horse, each man gripping the musket
supplied to him by his British allies, and, in the case of those
in our hero's own particular square, awaiting his orders before
discharging the weapon. Nor had the lesson of the shooting of the man
who had fled from the ranks been lost on his comrades. There may have
been others inclined to show cowardice; but such a salutary example
checked them.

"Kneeling rank make ready!" shouted Tom, when the eyes of the
oncoming troopers were visible. "Fire!"

A storm of bullets sped from the square, while the company nearest
opened on the enemy at the same moment.

"Reload!" bellowed Tom, peering through the smoke. "Now those who are
standing take aim. Fire!"

The volleys rang out in rather quick succession, and were followed at
once by the ring of ramrods. And all the while there came to the ear
the thunder of horses' hoofs and the shouts of excited men. Tom saw
through the billowing smoke a number of dark figures which flashed
past the square as if borne on a gale. A few of these same figures
seemed to struggle against the current that bore them, and then, as
the smoke blew aside, and one could see better, they appeared as
individual troopers or officers who had reined back their horses.
Then with loud and angry shouts they dug spurs deep into the flanks
of the gallant beasts they rode, and, swinging their sabres, dashed
madly at the nearest face of the square.

"Ready!" shouted Tom. "Fire individually. Keep them at a distance."

Once more there was a sharp fusillade; while, to the consternation
of more than one of the men, bullets from the adjacent square, aimed
no doubt at the enemy, swept overhead, narrowly missing friends. As
for the French, foiled in this their first attempt, they drew off and
re-formed at a distance. Tom at once climbed into his saddle and rode
out to Alfonso's square.

"Bravely done, men!" he called out, reining in close at hand. "I see
you did some execution; but you must be careful next time with your
bullets. You sent a number just over our heads. Now, Alfonso, draw
off your men by squares till we reach that broken ground. If we march
as we are you will lead the way; Jack will come next, and my little
lot will act as rearguard."

He rode across to Jack's company and congratulated them also. Then he
rejoined his own men, while Alfonso set the whole command in motion.
Taking care to keep the distances between the companies, the whole
force marched away from the French, till a shout and a shrill whistle
from the young Spaniard commanding the force caused all to halt.
Looking over his shoulder, Tom saw that the Frenchmen were advancing
again, and at once drew his own men compactly together.

"Remember that you are acting as the rearguard, and bear yourselves
accordingly. Obey my orders and you will come out of the conflict
victoriously. Let each man wait till he gets the word to fire."

It was as well, perhaps, that the men had had some previous
experience of fighting; and though this was actually the first day
on which they had come in conflict with the enemy, the recent charge
of the French, and the manner in which they had been driven away,
had heartened them wonderfully. Even so, this second occasion proved
a greater ordeal for Tom's own particular company; for the French
seemed to have decided to hurl all their weight on one square, with
the object of defeating the three companies in detail. Drawing in
their ranks now, they set their horses at Tom's square with an
impetuous dash that elsewhere had sent Spaniards fleeing. Once
more Tom saw the commander stand in his stirrups, fling his sabre
overhead, and yell the command to charge. Then the mass came forward
at speed, looking as if they would ride over the square and stamp
every living man there out of existence. Crisp and cool came Tom's
orders.

"Kneelers, fire!" he bellowed. "Now, those standing--reload!"

Very rapidly he had altered to a slight degree the formation of the
square, throwing the corner at which the French attack was aimed
farther outward, making the angle, in fact, much sharper, and so
enabling more men on either face to take effective aim. The flash
of the muskets was answered at once by shrieks and shouts, and by
the neighing of horses. Men fell from their saddles, maddened beasts
crashed to the ground, rolled over, and lay frantically plunging.
Then the bulk of the enemy, hit hard by the second volley, swept past
the square like a torrent, and galloped away to a distance. Tom at
once stepped outside the square, and, with the help of a couple of
the men, liberated a trooper who was pinned beneath his horse.

"There, _mon brave_," he said, with a smile, "go to your commander
and tell him not to make the attempt again; these Spaniards are well
able to look after themselves."

To his amazement the man clutched him by the hand and then grinned
widely. Looking closely into his face, beneath its thatch of ruffled
hair, Tom recognized one of the troopers who had helped to defend the
church, and promptly shook his hand eagerly.

[Illustration: "TO HIS AMAZEMENT THE MAN CLUTCHED HIM BY THE HAND"]

"_Ma foi!_ and so soon," gasped the fellow. "See, monsieur, a little
while ago, two months perhaps, you and I and the others do our best
to cut the throats of a common enemy. Now we would cut one another's.
Truly war is a farce, and here am I your prisoner, whereas you were
mine but a while ago."

The absurdity of the change tickled the man, and, though shaken by
his fall, he laughed uproariously. Then, aided by Tom again, he
clambered into the saddle borne by another horse resting beside its
slain master, and rode away, thanking Tom profusely. Nor was that
the last seen of him, for almost before Alfonso had put the three
companies in motion again half a dozen Frenchmen were seen to be
spurring towards them. One detached himself then from the number, and
presently was seen to be the officer. Fearless, as were these French
cavalrymen, he rode right up to the squares, lifting his hat as he
came.

"Monsieur," he began, addressing Alfonso, while the Spaniards in the
ranks gazed at him open-mouthed, "have I the honour of addressing
Monsieur Tom Clifford?"

Alfonso at once pointed to our hero, for he understood the language.
Then once more, when the officer had arrived at the last of the
squares, he repeated his question.

"At your service, Capitaine," replied Tom.

"The Monsieur Tom Clifford who defended the church against those
_canaille_ of Portuguese, and commanded French troopers?"

Tom bowed. "The same," he said. "Glad if I was of service."

"Then permit me to apologize for this attack," came the answer, while
the French officer swept his hat from his head again and bent over
the pommel of his saddle. "The tale of that fighting of monsieur,
and of the command he took, has gone through the French army.
Napoleon himself, the Emperor, has heard and commended. Monsieur,
we fight with the British, and with these _canaille_ of Portuguese
and Spanish; but we do not fight with monsieur. I have the honour to
observe that, though I have strong reinforcements at hand, I shall
retire, trusting that you will do so also. To fight with such a
friend is not _comme il faut_."

Off went the hat again. The officer saluted, while Tom returned the
compliment. And then the officer was gone. They watched him ride away
with his command, and saw some five hundred other troopers join him.
They never renewed the attack, but, clapping spurs to their horses,
rode away out of sight, magnanimously declining to fight against our
hero.

"And a jolly lucky thing for all of us!" declared Jack, when the men
were back in their bivouacs, and had broken their ranks. "Our fellows
did grandly, and are wonderfully heartened at their success; but they
realize, just as we realize, that an attack by the whole force of
cavalry would have overwhelmed us. Wonder how our Portuguese fellows
would have behaved under similar circumstances. Wish we had had them
here and put them to the test."

But Jack need have had no fears that the command generally would
not soon be engaged, for that very evening brought a galloper in
from headquarters. Tom tore open the official envelope, and read the
contents with gusto.

"To Lieutenant T. Clifford," it went. "You will report at once at
headquarters, and will take steps to concentrate your command on the
frontier. This message is urgent."

"Then off we go!" Tom cried eagerly. "Alfonso, you will march your
men to the frontier to-night, and will bivouac wherever suitable.
March at dawn again, till you have covered some thirty miles in all,
then halt and wait for our signals. Jack and I will be off at once."

That was the best of youth and energy. It carried the two young
fellows away at once, with Andrews in attendance. Nor did they halt
till darkness compelled them to do so. Rapping at the door of an
isolated farm, they were welcomed at once, leaving after a refreshing
sleep at the first streak of dawn. The following evening found them
at headquarters, where Tom at once reported himself.

"Ah, you have come quickly!" was his greeting from the chief of
staff. "Now, Mr. Clifford, I will see if his lordship can receive
you."

In the course of a few moments our hero found himself once more in
the presence of the great general, who greeted him with a smile.

"Been defending any more churches, or commanding other Frenchmen?" he
asked, with a quizzing smile that became downright laughter when he
saw how Tom was blushing. "Now, confess."

Tom had already reported the raising of the Spanish force, and lamely
admitted that they had been engaged with the enemy. "We beat them off
twice, sir," he said. "Then they received reinforcements, and matters
would have been ugly."

"Ah, would have been!" smiled the general. "How did they clear up,
then? You had an agreement with the enemy?"

"I met a friend," admitted our hero, with rising colour; "one of
the troopers who helped to defend the church. Then the officer came
forward and told us to move off, and declined to fight further."

"And a gallant fellow he was, too!" laughed Wellington. "However, you
cannot always hope for such fortune, though I congratulate you on
the behaviour of your Spaniards. How I wish all would act likewise,
instead of being for the most part wholly unreliable! But now for a
mission--it means danger."

Tom drew himself up and saluted. "Quite so, sir," he said cheerfully.

"It is a species of forlorn hope; discovery means death."

"What are the orders, sir?" asked Tom respectfully, never flinching.

"And success means much to me. I want reliable information as to the
defences of Ciudad Rodrigo. I rely absolutely on the discretion of
the officer I employ, for my intention of attacking that place must
never be guessed at. I want that information, and I want to learn how
it is that certain of our secrets have reached the enemy. There, Mr.
Clifford; I give no orders; volunteers alone undertake the forlorn
hope."

"Then I volunteer now, sir," exclaimed Tom promptly. "Am I to make
what use I like of my men?"

"You are to dispose them so as to prevent anyone entering or leaving
Ciudad Rodrigo without observation," came the sharp answer. "Good
evening, Mr. Clifford!"

Our hero saluted with precision, turned about with the smartness that
became a soldier, and hurried away.

"Well?" asked Jack, all eagerness.

"Let the men make ready for an early start. Draw rations and
ammunition for a couple of weeks; I'll be back in an hour."

Tom swung himself into his saddle and rode away to the outskirts of
the cantonments; for the troops were now in winter quarters, and
already the weather had been severe.

"Now, how's it to be done?" he asked himself. "I've to get into
Ciudad Rodrigo, which I know swarms with French soldiers, and I am to
intercept messages that appear to be going to the enemy. How's it
all to be done?"

Walking his horse well away from the vicinity of the troops, he
thought the matter out, and returned to his own command just as
darkness was falling.

"Let the men eat," he said abruptly. "We will march when darkness
has fallen, and so attract no attention. There may be people about
watching our troops."

It was two hours later when the men fell in at Jack's whistle. They
marched from the cantonments in absolute silence, each man bearing
rations and ammunition on his shoulders, while still more was carried
in a couple of carts. Taking a track that led to the mountains, and
being guided by one of the men who knew the ground intimately, the
little force marched steadily forward and upward till they were well
within a deep fold of the ground that entirely hid them from their
late comrades. Not that there was much chance of their being seen,
for it was now very dark. But their signals might have attracted
attention, and, if news were being taken to the enemy, Tom was wise
enough to know that those who sent it must be somewhere in the
vicinity of our camps.

"We'll take every precaution to bamboozle 'em," he told Jack, with
whom he had discussed matters. "They're hardly likely to notice our
absence from the camp; for 4000 Portuguese irregulars were encamped
beside us, and drew rations with us. Then, if they haven't seen us
move off, and don't see our signals, we shall be in a position to
lay a snare to catch any who may be making for Ciudad Rodrigo. Now
for a couple of fires."

Two flares were lighted almost at once, and, having been allowed to
blaze for a few minutes, were stamped out again. Almost immediately
an answering fire was seen right away above them. An hour or more
later Alfonso put in an appearance with his command.

"We'll march directly up the valley, the Portuguese going first,"
said Tom. "Then we'll camp for the night. To-morrow we can introduce
the men and make our plans for the future."

"What's the work?" asked Jack, whose interest and curiosity were
keen. "Special orders?"

"Yes, there's news getting into Ciudad Rodrigo."

"Ah! Not surprised. We've heaps of loafers always round our camps,
and a sly fellow might easily pick up information and take it to the
enemy. You'll hunt round Ciudad Rodrigo, I suppose?"

"No," declared Tom abruptly. "I shall watch the outskirts of our
camps. If a man leaves, he will be followed. If he comes in the
direction of Ciudad Rodrigo, the information will be signalled to
you. You will arrest and search him."

"I? You mean that you will," exclaimed Jack, for he was ever ready to
concede the post of leader to his chum.

"No; you."

"But," began Jack, "why not you?"

"Because I shall be in Ciudad Rodrigo."

"In the town, behind the defences! That's risky, ain't it?" asked his
friend.

"Orders," declared Tom light-heartedly. "I'm telling them to you
in confidence. See here, Jack. Wellington has given us a nice
little job, and we've to pull ourselves together and carry it out;
information of our troops' movements is leaking out, and Wellington
wishes to keep them very secret; for he intends to take Ciudad
Rodrigo by assault. We've to cloak his movements by capturing all
talebearers, and we've to get inside knowledge of the defences of
Ciudad. Got it?"

Jack had. He pondered for a little while, and then approached the
subject again. "How'll you fix the men?" he asked. "It's cold;
there's been snow already."

"Then we must find quarters for all. I shall divide the force up,
putting a hundred Portuguese in this neighbourhood, a hundred farther
on, and the remainder spread away on the mountains, so that every
pass is under observation. It will take a few days to fix matters,
and then we shall really begin our work."

They lay down in their blankets that night, the two halves of the
force, Portuguese and Spanish, being divided. Early on the following
morning, when a meal had been cooked and eaten, the men were formed
up, the two separate bands facing one another. Tom harangued them,
telling the Portuguese how the Spanish half had conducted itself
under the fire of the enemy, and how they had resisted an attack
by cavalry. To the Spaniards he spoke of the hardihood of the
Portuguese, and their courage, though he omitted to mention the
circumstances of the attack they had made on the church. Then he
spoke of their mutual interests, and having called upon all to do
their best, he dismissed the men for half an hour.

"Let them get together and compare notes," he said.

"It will make fast friends of them," agreed Alfonso. "You must
remember that my men live right on the frontier, and yours also,
so that they all speak a patois which is understood by the people
in these parts. Let them talk. The fact that they have a British
staff officer in command, with another to help him, and two British
riflemen, will help not a little."

When the force moved off again there was no doubt that the men had
fraternized wonderfully. To look at them there was very little
difference in their appearance. All were well-built, hardy fellows,
with fresh complexions, showing that they were accustomed to an
open-air life. Short for the most part, they displayed wonderful
activity, and were evidently at home in the mountains. It was three
hours later when Tom halted the force, and let the men fall out to
eat and rest.

"Here's where we place the first lot of our outposts," he told Jack,
pointing to some cottages lying under the brow of a rise. "Those are
deserted, and will shelter our men well. Andrews will stay with
them; for he has learned a little of the language. We will give
them a share of the rations, and then push on. I have already given
Andrews his orders. He is to post his men, half at a time, on every
height commanding the roads from our camps, is to capture all who
come this way, and, if a number are seen, is to signal by lighting a
fire."

"And what happens when he's captured a man?" asked Jack.

"He sends him along to us."

"But you said 'you' a little while ago," Jack reminded him, with a
grin.

"Us at first, you afterwards," said Tom ambiguously. "I dare say that
puzzles you; wait till we catch a fellow and you'll see."

Three days later saw the whole of the force disposed, and when Tom
and his two lieutenants reviewed the posts, they could not help but
agree that they controlled all the roads communicating with Ciudad
Rodrigo, and likely to be used by anyone leaving Wellington's camp.
It was a week later when news reached our hero that a capture had
been made. He was then within sight of Ciudad Rodrigo, hidden on a
height from which he could look down at the fortress and town. Some
six hours later Andrews arrived, having left his brother rifleman in
charge of the post.

"Well?" asked Tom, as the man drew himself up and saluted.

"Captured a ruffian coming through our way early this morning, sir."

"And searched him?"

"Found these papers on him, sir. He did his best to get away, and
when he saw we were bound to capture him, tried to destroy the
papers; but our lads were too quick for him."

"Where is he?" asked Tom. "Bring him forward."

A rough, broad-shouldered individual was ushered into his presence
between an escort of four of the Portuguese, and stood scowling at
Tom.

"Portuguese?" asked our hero.

"No."

"Then Spanish?"

"No," came again the curt answer.

"Then what?"

"Spanish father, Portuguese mother. By what right do your men
interfere with me?"

Tom ignored the question, and carefully investigated the papers
Andrews had placed in his hands. There were a couple of rough maps,
showing the British cantonments occupied by Wellington's troops, and
a few lines of writing, drafted in a clear, good hand, and telling of
the suspicion of the writer that Wellington was preparing to attack
Ciudad Rodrigo.

"You have been then to Ciudad before?" asked Tom severely.

"That's my affair," came the rough answer.

"And you call yourself a patriot? Who were these papers to be taken
to? There is no address on the envelope."

A smile of triumph, and then a scowl, crossed the ill-favoured face
of the man. It was obvious that he meant to give no information.

"Take him away," commanded Tom. "Mr. Barwood, put the prisoner up
against that rock, and shoot him five minutes from now. Choose four
of the men to carry out the sentence. There is not one who will not
willingly obey and help to shoot a traitor."

He repeated the words in English to the astonished Jack, and then
turned away abruptly. But a moment later a cry brought him facing
round again, to discover the renegade on his knees, begging for his
life.

"I will tell all," he wailed.

"Then speak, and take care that it is the truth, for you will be kept
here for a while, and shot if we have doubts. Now, you have been to
Ciudad Rodrigo before?"

The man shook his head emphatically.

"For whom were the papers intended?"

"For the general in command. But I was to deliver them to one who
lives at a cabaret in the street of St. Angelo, and who would answer
to the name of Francisco."

"And then?"

"I was to seek a lodging at the far end of the town, wait for a
letter, and then return."

"To whom?" asked Tom curtly, while the men about strained their ears
to hear what was passing.

"To my employer, _señor_."

"And he is----?"

"One whom I never met before. He lodges in a house in Oporto, and
there I met him. His name I never heard. He is young and thin and
dark. That is all I can tell you."

Tom stood thinking for a while, and then walked to a distance with
Jack Barwood.

"Well?" he asked. "What would you do?"

"Send along to Oporto," declared his adjutant. "Get hold of this
employer."

"And what about these papers?" asked Tom.

"I'd dispatch them to headquarters."

"Quite so; and then?"

"Then?" asked Jack, a little troubled. "Then I'd set the watch again
and see if I could catch others."

"Good!" agreed Tom. "We'll do all that. Alfonso shall take a party to
Oporto, carrying this fellow with him, with orders to scare him if he
shows signs of lying. You shall send the papers to Wellington, with
an explanation I shall write, and then I----"

"Yes?" gasped Jack, conscious that his friend had all the while been
leading up to the declaration of some plan.

"I shall borrow this fellow's clothing. I'll write up a yarn which
will do just as well as his papers, and then I'll seek out the
owner of the cabaret in the street of St. Angelo, the man known as
Francisco, and there discover all that there is to be learned with
regard to Ciudad Rodrigo."

It was a daring scheme to attempt; but then Tom had his orders.
The following morning, in fact, found him stripped of his handsome
staff uniform, and dressed in the clothes of their captive. He bade
adieu to his comrades, went off down the height, and some two hours
later was seen accosting the outposts placed by the French about the
fortress. Jack and his friends, watching from above, saw their friend
and leader disappear within a wide gateway. Thereafter, though they
strained their eyes, there was not so much as a sign of him. He was
gone altogether, swallowed by the massive defences of Ciudad Rodrigo,
cut off from his friends, and surrounded by enemies who, if they
discovered his disguise, would treat him as a spy and promptly shoot
him.



CHAPTER XIII

Ciudad Rodrigo


"Halt! Stand fast and give the countersign!"

A huge French grenadier barred the road where it passed in beneath
the frowning doorway of the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, and with his
long bayonet dropped to the level of the chest of the intruder called
upon him brusquely and in no uncertain tones to halt.

"The countersign," he demanded once more, peremptorily, the point
of his weapon actually entangled in the stranger's clothing, while
the look on the soldier's face seemed to say that he would willingly
make a little error and transfix him. As for the latter, he was a
well-grown, active, young fellow, with tousled hair dangling over his
eyes, a general appearance of untidiness, and a something about him
which denoted neither the genuine Spaniard nor the genuine Portuguese.

"Son of a dog no doubt," growled the sentry. "Neither fish nor flesh,
nor yet good herring. A _peste_ on these loafers about this place.
Poof! If I were here I should be fighting, instead of swilling wine
and idling as do these men. Well?" he called loudly. "The word?"

Tom looked up at the man from beneath the drawn-down brim of the
tattered hat he had borrowed from the news bearer his men had
captured. "Orleans," he murmured, putting into the word the queer
accent to be expected of a stranger.

"Ha! Then enter; but whither? The dog may be a spy of the British,"
the man growled, and at the recollection, and the sudden suspicion,
once more elevated the point of his weapon, and cleverly contrived to
catch it in the lapel of Tom's coat.

"The street of St. Angelo," answered our hero under his breath, as
if he were imparting a secret. "To one Francisco, with news, you
understand?"

Apparently the man had learned some Spanish since the invasion of the
Peninsula, and contrived to understand the words.

"Then enter," he cried. "Enter."

Down came the butt of his weapon with a clatter on the stones, while
Tom passed on meekly. Indeed he was anxious to give the impression
of one with little courage, merely a tale bearer. Also, he was in a
hurry to get away from the Frenchman. For always he was dogged with
the fear that he might by some evil chance come face to face with
one of the troopers with whom he had fought the Portuguese peasants.
However, the grenadier was not one of them. Tom left him standing at
ease, and at once clambered up the steep way leading to the town. As
for the grenadier, he watched the retreating figure of the stranger
reflectively.

"A Spaniard? No," he told himself. "A Portuguese? _Parbleu!_
Impossible! He has not the colouring. Then what? A mixture? No.
Then--English!"

The very suspicion set him marching to and fro with energy. His
musket flew to his shoulder, and then came down again with a bump.
The grenadier was consumed with doubt for some few moments, and then
with suspicion that soon became certainty. He called loudly for the
serjeant of the guard, made his report, and was promptly relieved.
A few minutes later he was hurrying in the direction Tom had taken,
with three of his grenadier comrades to assist him.

"A fairly tall, broad-shouldered ragamuffin," he explained. "One with
the appearance and manner of a coward at first sight, and with the
frame and body of an athlete, and the eyes of one who has courage in
abundance. Seek for him; if he fails to surrender on demand, shoot!"

It was a very pleasant prospect for Tom, and no doubt, had he known
what was happening, he would have hastened his footsteps, and
would have promptly taken measures to ensure his escape. But Tom
had important work to do, work which required time and patience.
First, there was the envelope to deliver, with the fictitious
plans he had drawn, and the wording that told not of Wellington's
anticipated attempt of Ciudad Rodrigo, but of his retirement towards
Lisbon. In fact, Tom had fabricated a yarn which, if the governor
of this fortress believed it, would throw dust in his eyes and aid
Wellington's plans enormously. Then there was a tour to be made of
the defences, the guns to be located and counted, and any special
works recorded on the plan he must draw. Our hero was, indeed,
engaged on recognizance work of the utmost importance, work hardly
likely to be facilitated by the three grenadiers who were making so
hurriedly after him.

"The street of St. Angelo," he repeated to himself; "one Francisco."

Selecting a lad who was playing in the street, he enquired the way of
him.

"Up there to the right, then to the left sharp. It's the last street
in that direction," he was told, the boy evidently seeing nothing
strange about him. Tom promptly took the direction indicated, and,
following the turnings in succession, came to the street he was
searching for.

"Francisco lives at a cabaret at the corner," he reminded himself.
"There it is: 'Michael Francisco, dealer in wine.' And there's the
fellow himself."

A beetle-browed, untidy individual was sitting just within the
entrance to the cabaret, warming his toes at a charcoal brazier. From
a room within came the sound of voices, the tinkle of a stringed
instrument, and the chink of glasses, while from a spot still farther
away, perhaps in the back regions of the dwelling, the voice of a
scolding woman could be heard, drowning the other sounds completely
for some few seconds. Tom looked cautiously about him, and then
sauntered up to the door.

"One Francisco?" he asked. "Of the street of St. Angelo?"

"The same," came the immediate answer, while the proprietor of the
place looked him over sharply. "And you?"

"Someone with a message from Oporto for you to deal with. Here it is."

An exclamation of delight broke from the man, who at once seized the
envelope. "You have orders to wait, then, my friend?" he asked.

"I have; I shall seek a lodging down the street. To-night I will come
for the answer."

"Then step inside now and take a glass," the man said promptly.
"To-night there shall be an answer. Come, a glass. Ho there, wine!"
he shouted.

The scolding voice ceased of a sudden, while a woman appeared at the
door of a room located at the end of the passage. Some five minutes
later she brought a tray containing glasses, and poured wine into two
of them.

"To our success!" cried Francisco, lifting his glass and speaking
significantly.

"And may you get what every traitor deserves," thought Tom as he
lifted his own allowance. "To you!" he cried, tipping the glass
upward.

It was just at that moment that, glancing through the bottom of his
upturned glass, and aslant through the open door of the cabaret,
which being set at the corner of the street commanded a long view
of it, our hero caught sight of four French grenadiers hastening
along it. At their head was one who was almost a giant! His flowing
moustaches and the breadth of his shoulders seemed strangely
familiar, while a second look convinced Tom that it was the very man
who had stood sentry at the gate and had admitted him.

"Strange!" he thought. "They are the first soldiers I have seen in
this direction, though there are others, of course. There are two in
this cabaret at the moment, for I caught a glimpse of them. Ah, the
big man is pointing! They are all hurrying--this looks ugly."

It was one of those situations where one engaged in dangerous work
such as our hero had undertaken might very well be captured before
he was more than aware of his danger. Hesitation might mean his
downfall. On the other hand, if he were mistaken in the designs
of the approaching grenadiers, and they had no concern with him,
then action at the moment might lead to suspicion on the part of
Francisco, which would be almost as bad. Tom screwed up his eyes and
looked closely at the oncomers; then, seeing them turn towards the
cabaret, he asked a question in the most unconcerned voice possible.

"Tell me," he said, "I may rest in here, upstairs where there is less
noise? I have come fast from Oporto, and feel too tired even to seek
for a lodging."

"Then pass up the stairs," came the answer, while the innkeeper
deposited his empty glass on the tray with a bang. "Pass upstairs,
friend, and rest in the room overhead. In an hour perhaps, when I am
free, I will go to the governor. There is no haste in these matters.
Go now. I will attend to the customers who are now coming."

He turned to greet the grenadiers, now within ten yards of the door,
while Tom lounged to the stairs, and then darted up them. At the top
he stood and listened for a few moments.

"Ha!" he heard the big grenadier exclaim. "This is Francisco. Now, my
friend, you have a caller. Where is he?"

That was enough for Tom. It was clear that he was suspected, and
equally clear that if he did not hasten he would be captured within
a few minutes. But how was he to get away? He opened the nearest
door and thrust his head into the room to which it gave admittance.
It was empty; there was nothing there to help him. He went then to
the next, and peered into it noiselessly. There was nothing there
either----"Ah!" Tom gave vent to a startled exclamation, for a man
lay full length on a bed--a man who seemed to be sunk in the depths
of sleep. Who was he?

He was across the room in an instant, bending over the man. Yes, he
was sunk in a profound slumber, and, if Tom could have guessed it,
Francisco's wine had something to say to the fellow's drowsiness. But
whatever the cause Tom's attention was instantly switched in another
direction, for it appeared that the fellow had dragged off his
clothing, and there, thrown carelessly on the floor, was the uniform
of a French soldier.

"I think----" began our hero, cogitating deeply. "Ah! they're coming
upstairs, that innkeeper and the grenadiers. I must chance it."

He stooped over the clothing, dragged the red breeches over his own,
pulled them tight at the waist, and threw on the long-tailed surcoat
so loved by the French. Round went the belt, hitching with a click,
while the hat followed in a twinkling. Then he sat down, dragged off
his boots, and was in the act of pulling on one belonging to the
sleeper, when he heard footsteps on the landing outside and gruff
voices.

"They'll look in here, and see that fellow asleep," he told himself.
"No they won't, if I'm sharp. How's that?"

Very swiftly he sprang towards the bed and dragged a curtain into
position, for the latter hung from a horizontal iron rod, and was
intended to shut off a cubicle containing the bed. He had hardly got
back to his seat, and was again pulling on a boot, when there came a
thump at the door and again loud voices.

"I tell you that there is only a brother soldier of yours in here,"
he heard the innkeeper exclaim testily. "He is asleep, or was a
little while ago. He has been here making merry with some friends,
and fell asleep down below. We carried him to bed and pulled off his
clothes."

"Then if he is asleep, open and let us see him," he heard from the
grenadier in villainous Spanish. "Open, man, in the name of the
Emperor!"

There was another bang at the door, which at once flew open. Tom,
with his back to the entrance, leaned over and pulled at the boot.

"Ha!" he heard from behind him. "The rascal! He is awake. Well,
comrade?"

"Well," answered our hero in a dull, thick voice. "Well."

"That's you, eh?"

"Me, right enough," Tom coughed sleepily. "What's the time?"

"Time you were back in barracks," came the gruff answer.

The door banged, and again voices were heard on the landing.

"Not there," the grenadier told his friends. "The landlord is right.
There is merely a sleepy, half-tipsy comrade. No wonder, too; these
rascals of innkeepers sell the worst of wine at the highest figure.
But search the other rooms. You, Jacques, stand at the head of the
stairs; we will not have our bird bolting. Now, my man, lead on
again."

Tom listened attentively, and wondered what his next move should be.

"Walk out in this uniform, I suppose. But it'd be risky; I'd be
likely to be accosted by other soldiers. I might get an order from
an officer. Still, for the time being, it would do. But I must find
some other disguise, for the whole garrison will soon be on the
lookout for a young chap dressed like a civilian. I was suspicious of
that grenadier; I was afraid he had spotted me. Ah, there they go!"

More voices reached his ear. The French grenadiers stopped at the
head of the stairs and discussed the matter.

"Not here--flown through the far window," he heard one say. "Best be
after him."

"See here, Jacques," came to his ear. "Go down to the main guard and
warn them to send round to all the gates. If we don't get the spy
here, we'll have him as he attempts to leave. Tell them to search
every civilian."

There was a clatter outside the cabaret after that, and then silence.
Tom peeped out of the door and found the landing empty. He turned,
hearing a sound from the bed, to find the sleeper sitting up on one
arm, drowsily regarding him from the edge of the curtain which he had
drawn aside.

"What cheer, comrade!" the fellow gurgled with an inane smile. "Time
for parade?"

"Not a bit," answered our hero promptly. "Get to sleep again. It'll
clear your head. There; I'll draw the curtain."

He swung the curtain right across the end of the bed and heard the
soldier flop down again on his pillows. Then, once more, he went
to the door. There was no one about, though on peering out of the
window he saw the landlord standing in the street outside with a
curious crowd about him.

"Said a spy had been here," he was shouting angrily. "As if I,
Francisco, would harbour such an one. A spy indeed! What does an
innkeeper have to do with spying?"

The crafty fellow did not tell the listeners that he was an agent
of the French, the go-between for information of the movements of
the British, the men who had come to the country to free himself
and his nation from the grip of France. And he scouted the idea
that his messenger could have been an Englishman, or the message he
brought written by other than the traitor who hid himself in Oporto
and hired rascals like himself in the neighbourhood of Wellington's
camp. To this Francisco it was out of the question that Tom could
be anything but what he represented himself to be. But that others
thought differently was certain; for there was a bustle all over
the defences. Tom could see squads of men marching swiftly. Mounted
messengers galloped here and there, while a double company was massed
at the gate by which he had entered.

"They've made up their minds that they've a spy here, and that's
the end of it," he told himself. "Soon there'll be a call for all
the troops, and this fellow here will be bustled out to join 'em.
That'll be awkward. What can I do? Ah, let's see what the other rooms
contain!"

He went scuttling across the landing and dived into a room almost
opposite. It belonged, probably, to the daughter of the house, for it
was neat and tidy, while a couple of dresses hung on the wall. Tom
pulled a cupboard open and peeped in.

"Got it!" he cried. "Here's the very thing--a sort of mantilla. Now
for the dress and anything else likely to come handy."

He swept up an armful and dived back to the room he had been
occupying. There he threw off the French uniform and dressed himself
in the new garments he had secured.

"Not half bad," he grinned, as he stood before a cracked glass
perched on a rickety table. "My uncle, as Jack would say, but I'm
not half bad-looking when dressed as a girl! Am I right, though?
Wish I knew more about these things. If only there was another
glass I'd be able to see what my back looks like. Now, we practise
walking. Gently does it. Hang this skirt! Nearly took a header that
time, and--yes--I've torn the thing badly. Want a pin for that. Got
it--here it is, just handy."

Afraid? Not a bit of it; Tom wasn't that. Merely hugely excited, for
the occasion was somewhat strenuous. The noise outside, the blare of
bugles, the rattle of drums and the clatter of moving troops told
him that plainly. Also he guessed, and guessed rightly, that he was
the cause of all the bustle. He swung the mantilla over his head,
half-swathed his face in it, took one last look at his reflection,
and then went to the door. No one was moving upstairs; the coast was
clear.

"Straight bang for the window," he told himself. "Wonder what's
below? Wouldn't there be a howl if they saw a girl dropping from one.
Here we are. This'll do--out we go!"

There was a sheer drop of ten or more feet into an enclosed yard at
the back of the house; but a door led from the yard into a lane, and
that promised to give access to one of the streets. Tom did not wait
a moment. Indeed, the sound of steps on the stairs hastened him,
while, as if everything must needs conspire to thwart his hopes, the
door he had so recently closed on the sleeping soldier opened, and
that individual staggered out on to the landing. By then Tom was half
through the window. He waited not an instant, but swung himself down
and dropped to the ground. Dashing across to the gate he was through
it in a few moments.

"Steady does it," he murmured, finding it extremely difficult to obey
the order and to refrain from running. "There's that idiot grinning
at me from the window. Ah, that places me out of sight! Guess he's
considerably astonished."

There was little doubt but that the soldier was flabbergasted. In his
sleepy, maudlin condition he found it very hard to understand the
meaning of the scene he had but just witnessed. He was filled with a
stupid admiration of the pluck of the damsel he had seen leap from
the window, but felt no further interest. His muddled mind asked for
no reason for such behaviour, while his ignorance of the commotion
then filling the place, and of the search that was being made for a
spy, left him merely admiring a feat which was to him extraordinary.

As for Tom, he stepped down the lane and was soon in the main street,
that of St. Angelo. A crowd of excited individuals of all ages and
of both sexes was hastening down towards the main guard, and, since
he could do nothing better, he went with them, safer in their midst
than he could have been in any other position. Parties of soldiers
passed them constantly, while all down the street houses were being
searched, and every civilian of the male sex stopped and closely
questioned. As a result there was an extraordinary hubbub. Women
shrieked indignantly from their windows, resenting such intrusion,
while men stood sullenly at their doors, looking as if they would
have gladly murdered the Frenchmen.

"Seems to me that I've dropped on the only real disguise," Tom
chuckled. "But there's one thing to be remembered: if the daughter of
Francisco goes to her room she will discover what has happened, then
there'll be another flare up. Time I looked into the business part of
this thing seriously."

He had come carefully armed with a small notebook and pencil, and,
having in the past two months received some instruction in sketching,
he felt sure that he had only to use his eyes, and discover a retired
spot, when he would be able to gather a sufficiently correct plan
of the defences. Indeed he strolled about, first with one batch of
excited inhabitants and then with another, till he had made a round
of the place, retiring now and again to some quiet corner where he
jotted down his observations. Every gun he saw was marked, every
earthwork drawn in with precision. A few careful questions gave him
the position of stores and magazines, while a little smiling chat
with a French sentry, who seemed to admire this girl immensely, put
Tom in possession of the strength of the garrison, the name of the
general in command, and the fact that other troops were nowhere in
the vicinity.

"Then it's time to think of departing. That'll be a conundrum," he
told himself. "Couldn't drop over the walls, that's certain. Halloo!
mounted men have been sent out to cut me off should I try to make a
dash from the place. This is getting particularly awkward."

It was well past noon by now, and Tom was getting ravenously hungry.
He stood amongst a group of civilians on one of the walls of the
place looking out towards the part where Jack and his men were
secreted. Troopers could be seen cantering here and there, while
others were halted at regular intervals, and stood beside their
horses prepared to mount and ride at any moment. Strolling along
with his new acquaintances our hero was soon able to get a glimpse
of the other side of Ciudad Rodrigo and its surroundings there. But
there was not a break in the line of troopers circling the place.
It was evident, in fact, that no effort was to be spared to capture
the fellow whom the grenadier had first suspected. Nor was there
any doubt in the mind of the French general that his suspicion was
justified; for Francisco had now disgorged the papers Tom had handed
him, and these on inspection proved to be wanting in one particular.
The secret sign of the agent who was supposed to have sent them,
which was always attached to such papers, was lacking, proof positive
that the news was false and the bearer an enemy.

It was, perhaps, two or three hours after noon when Tom mixed with
a crowd of curious citizens at the very gate which he had entered
that morning, and watched as soldiers came and went. Sometimes
a civilian would pass through also, though in every case he was
closely inspected. As for the women and children, as yet they had not
ventured out. But curiosity soon got the better of them. A laughing
dame thrust her way through, the guard passing her willingly. Then
the others pressed forward, and in a little while Tom was outside,
sauntering here and there, wistfully looking at those hills which he
had left in the morning.

"And still as far away as ever," he told himself. "Wish I could get
hold of a horse--that would do it. What's the matter now? There's
another disturbance in the town; people are shouting. Here's a
trooper galloping out."

By then he was some distance from the outer wall, but still within
the ring of dismounted troopers. And, as he had observed, there was
another commotion. In a few minutes, indeed, there was a movement
amongst the civilians. Those nearest the gate were hastening back,
while troopers galloped out to fetch in stragglers. One of these came
dashing up to the group Tom accompanied.

"Get back through the gates," he commanded brusquely.

"And why?" asked the same laughing dame who had led the movement from
the fortress. "Why, friend?"

"Because there is a vixen amongst you who is not what she seems," the
man answered angrily. "There's information that this spy borrowed
women's clothing; you may be he. We'll have to look into the
matter--back you all go."

He was a rough fellow, who held no love for these people, and riding
amongst them actually upset the woman who had spoken, causing her to
shriek aloud.

"Coward!" she cried, picking herself up with difficulty and trembling
at his violence.

"Eh!" exclaimed the brute, angered at the taunt. "Now bustle, and
keep a civil tongue between your teeth--bustle, I say."

He edged his horse still closer, till the woman fell again, terrified
by the close approach of the animal the trooper rode.

"Shame!" cried Tom, his gorge rising. "Do the French then fight with
women?"

He had called out in the voice of a woman, and looked, in fact,
merely a young girl. But that made little difference to this brute
of a trooper. He set his horse in Tom's direction, and looked as
if he would actually ride over him. And then there was a sudden
and unexpected change; for the young girl displayed the most
extraordinary activity. She leaped aside, darted in, and sprang
up behind the trooper. For a moment there was a tussle; and then
the trooper was lifted from his saddle and tipped out on to the
ground. Before the astonished and frightened crowd of women could
realize what was happening, or the trooper gather a particle of his
scattered wits, the girl was firmly planted in his place, her feet
were jammed in the stirrups, and there was presented to all who
happened to be looking in that direction as strange a sight as could
be well imagined. Shrieks filled the air; men shouted hoarsely to one
another, while the troopers standing at their horses' heads leaped
into their saddles.

"It is the spy! It is the English spy!" was shouted from the walls.
"The spy!" bellowed the bullying soldier whom Tom had unhorsed,
making a funnel of his hands and turning to the trooper who was
nearest.

"Follow!" came in stentorian tones from the nearest officer.

Then began a race the like of which had never been witnessed outside
Ciudad Rodrigo. Tom clapped the heels of his French boots to the
flanks of his borrowed horse, while the mantilla that had done him
such service, caught by the breeze, went blowing out behind him.
Bending low, he sent the animal galloping direct for the hills,
smiling grimly as the crack of carbines came from behind him.

[Illustration: TOM ESCAPES FROM CIUDAD RODRIGO]

"Jack'll be up there waiting," he thought as he glanced ahead. "He'll
soon send these fellows back once they get within shot. Pah! That was
a near one; the bullet struck my boot. Beg pardon, not my boot, but
that fellow's at the cabaret. Glad there's no horsemen in front of
me. So much the better; it's going to be a fine gallop."

A fine gallop it proved, too. His mount was blown before the chase
was over, while had it lasted a little longer he would certainly
have been taken. But of a sudden heavy musketry fire broke out from
a point a little to one side. Dark figures, clad in the well-known
rough uniform of Tom's guerrillas, appeared on the hillside. And then
a shrill whistle sounded. It was perhaps a minute later that Tom
threw himself from his horse and stood amongst his comrades. And how
Jack roared with laughter, how the men grinned their delight, how
Andrews, who had but just reached the party spluttered and attempted
to behave as became a disciplined soldier!

"Introduce me, do," gurgled Jack, seizing Alfonso by the arm and
doubling up with merriment. "Miss what's-her-name, eh?"

"Clifford, at your service," grinned Tom, "and don't you forget it!"

"Of all the boys!" spluttered Andrews, his face red with his efforts.
"I knew he had backbone, but this here's something different."

"Allow me," said Jack in his most gallant manner, offering an arm.
"Excuse me if I appear a little forward."

"Rats!" was Tom's somewhat abrupt answer. "Let the boys fall in.
We'll march at once; I've had a spree, I can tell you."

It was with grins of delight and many an exclamation that his
comrades listened to the tale, a narrative soon passed on by Alfonso
to their following. Meanwhile Tom tore his borrowed clothing from
him, donned his handsome uniform, and made ready for more active
movement.

"We've done a good part of our work," he said. "Now for that fellow
in Oporto. Let's ride back to the camp, leaving some of our men to
watch the roads near it. I'll hand my notes in to the chief of the
staff, and then look into the last part of this matter. Wonder who
the rogue is who's such a friend of Francisco, and sends news to the
men that are enemies of his country."

They might all wonder, and the reader need not feel surprised if he
learns that this rascal was too clever for those who sought him.
The hovel to which the man whom Tom's guerrillas had captured led
them--and who had promised information in return for his life--was
empty. There was no particle of evidence to prove where the rascal
had flown; but careful search discovered a note hidden in a crevice
of the ceiling, and when that was opened the information contained
proved to be of little value.

"Come to Badajoz," it said. "There ask for Juan de Milares, in the
street of St. Paulo. There is still work to be done and money to be
earned for the doing."

"Same handwriting without a doubt," declared Jack emphatically. "The
bird's flown, and Badajoz is out of the question."

As a general rule one would have agreed with him; for, like
Ciudad Rodrigo, that fortress was garrisoned by the French. But
circumstances alter cases, and Tom soon recognized this to be a fact,
since there was further information awaiting him in Oporto. A visit
to the house of Septimus John Clifford & Son discovered something
approaching a tragedy. For Juan de Esteros had disappeared that very
evening, and with him no less a person than Septimus John Clifford
himself.

"But where?" demanded Tom, filled with apprehension.

"Alas, there is nothing to tell us!" answered the chief clerk, as
faithful a fellow as the worthy Huggins. "They left without a word to
anyone, without so much as a sound. They dined together and sat on
the veranda reading. Later they retired to their rooms; after that we
know nothing."

"But," exclaimed Tom, aghast at the mystery, "surely there's----"

"There is merely this," came the answer, while a slip of paper was
thrust into his hands. "We found it resting on the table, weighted so
that it could not blow away. Read, _señor_."

Tom scanned the lines for some few moments, while his smooth forehead
wrinkled deeply. "Thus is the house of Septimus John Clifford & Son
punished," he read, the Spanish letters being scrawled across the
paper. Yes scrawled. In a moment he recognized that writing. It was
put upon the paper by the selfsame man who had sent information to
the commandant at Ciudad Rodrigo, the traitor who was eager and
willing to supply news which would help the enemies of his country.

"Well? What next?" asked Jack when the fact had been explained to him.

"To Badajoz, that's all," came the short answer. "This villain's got
hold of my father and uncle for some reason or other. It's plainly my
duty to look into the matter; so I'll pay Badajoz a visit, just as I
went to Ciudad Rodrigo. Wonder who this chap is and what game he's up
to? But duty first, Jack; we'll make back to the camp and see what's
expected of us."

If Tom had hoped to pursue a private matter just then he was to be
disappointed. For barely was Christmas past, and the new year entered
upon, when Wellington threw the whole force he commanded against
Ciudad Rodrigo. Pressing the siege with intense energy--for there
was always the fear that the French would concentrate on him from
all parts and raise the siege before it was successfully over--he
launched his attacking parties after remarkably short delay. The
fighting which resulted was of the severest description, and the
greatest gallantry and resolution was shown by either side. But
British pluck won. The defences were captured, and within a few hours
of the assault the place which Tom had visited was garrisoned by
British instead of by French soldiers. Then Wellington turned toward
Badajoz, outside which Tom and his men had for two weeks past thrown
out a circle of their men, thus cutting all communications.

"It'll be a hard nut to crack," observed the merry Jack, casting his
eye up at the defences; "but I suppose we'll do it."

"We must," declared Tom with emphasis. "Anyway, I've got to get
inside the place and unravel this mystery. There's father and Don
Juan to find and release, and then there's that rascal who took them."

But would Tom, or indeed any of our men, ever get within this
terribly grim fortress? It seemed unlikely enough, viewing the
defences, and we may declare here and now that before our hero was to
set foot within the place he was to take part in fighting of the very
fiercest.



CHAPTER XIV

One of the Forlorn Hope


"A terribly hard nut to crack," observed Jack, for perhaps the
twentieth time, as he and Tom sat their horses on a ridge above
Badajoz, and looked down upon the fortress. "It'll be interesting
to see how Wellington sets about the matter. Suppose there'll be a
tremendous cannonade, and then an assault. Wish we were going to be
in it."

"I mean to, whatever happens," came from our hero, who was staring
down at the fortress, as if he wished to guess in which house his
father and Don Juan were imprisoned. "As to how it'll be done,
there's no saying; for I've never witnessed a siege before. But
apparently the sappers and miners dig their way toward the fortress,
erecting batteries as they go, till they are so close that our guns
can batter down the walls. Then comes the grand assault. I can
imagine that that is a terrific business. Well, let's ride round the
place and see what's happening. There's very little else for us to do
just now, and we can leave the men with Alfonso."

For two weeks past the combined command of Portuguese and Spanish
guerrillas whom Tom had charge of had been operating about the
magnificent fortress which Wellington had determined to capture.
Throwing a circle completely about the place, they had cut the
garrison off entirely from the outside world, and thus had enabled
Wellington to concentrate his men without alarming the French. For
here again, as in the case of Ciudad Rodrigo, it was all-important
that the siege operations should not be disturbed by the arrival
of a large French force, against whom our troops would have to act
before taking the fortress. As in the case of Ciudad Rodrigo, had
information leaked out the enemy could easily have concentrated a
force in the neighbourhood, sufficient to delay and make impossible
all siege operations. But, thanks to secrecy in his preparations,
thanks, too, in no small measure to the work of such corps as Tom
commanded, the intentions of Wellington were quite unknown, till,
of a sudden, in the March following his capture of Ciudad Rodrigo,
he turned his divisions in the direction of Badajoz, a fortress
sometimes known as "the gate of Spain," and, crossing the River
Guadiana on the 16th, caused the place to be invested by the three
divisions commanded by Beresford and Picton. The remainder of his
troops, some 60,000 in all, counting Spanish and Portuguese allies,
covered the siege operations.

Looking down from the point of vantage to which they had ridden, Tom
and his chum could obtain a bird's-eye view of the ancient fortress
of Badajoz, and could easily trace its outline. But the arrival
of a staff officer helped them wonderfully to understand what was
occurring before their eyes. Cantering up the hill at this moment,
and looking the smart fellow he was, this officer drew rein close to
the two young fellows, acknowledging their salutes with one as brisk,
and with a smile.

"Taking the air?" he asked. "We shall have plenty of it before we've
done with the Frenchies. Ah! that's Clifford, I believe."

Tom saluted again and flushed.

"The officer the French refuse to fight, eh?"

Our hero was compelled to agree, with heightened colour, whereat the
officer laughed loudly.

"And his adjutant along with him, too," he remarked, looking the
unabashed Jack up and down, and reflecting that he seemed to be a
very smart and jovial fellow. "You chaps know how you're spoken of,
perhaps, eh?" he asked with another smile, causing both the lads to
shake their heads.

"Then I'll tell you. Never is one seen but the other is at his heels.
So throughout the army you're known as the 'twins.' Good name, isn't
it?"

Once more they heard his hearty laughter, which they shared with
him; for this was news to our two heroes. Not that they could help
admitting that there was reason for the name they had earned, since
Jack Barwood had become Tom's veritable shadow. They seemed to haunt
the same piece of ground always, and even when with their command
the jovial Jack was ever at the side of his superior. There was
a whisper also amongst the men, fostered not a little by voluble
sayings of Andrews and his brother rifleman, that these two young
officers, occupying such posts of responsibility, were nevertheless
not above a little skylarking. Indeed, if Tom and Jack had proved
that they were eager and ready to lead their men into action, they
had also more than once shown a disposition to lead them into
mischief.

"Well, now, let's have a look at the place," said the officer,
producing a short spyglass. "You can see for yourselves how the
fortress is placed. It stands on an eminence at the junction of the
Rivers Guadiana and Rivillas, the former being crossed by a long
bridge, which you can see for yourself. There's the castle, perched a
hundred feet above the level of the rivers, and occupying almost the
apex of the point of confluence. The town spreads behind it fan-wise,
and is walled, presenting eight strong bastions, with curtains,
counterscarps, glacis, and covered ways, without doubt, all helping
to make the place extremely strong. There are five gates, though
you can't see them all from this point. There, take a look; you can
actually observe people moving in the streets."

The view was, in fact, an enchanting one; for Badajoz at that time
was not an erection of a few years, but one of great antiquity. It
had withstood sieges against the Moors and Goths, and had been taken
and retaken many a time; and there it was fully prepared for another
siege, garrisoned by some 5000 of the enemy, and packed to repletion
with guns, ammunition, and food; in fact with all that makes defence
possible.

"And how will the siege be conducted?" asked Tom, when he had taken a
long look at the place. "Shall we endeavour to make a breach at one
point or at many?"

"Many," came the short answer. "No doubt Wellington will launch his
attacking parties in several directions. But first he must smash
up that work you see on the far side of the river, known as Fort
Picurina. Batteries will be placed elsewhere, and I believe the angle
nearest us has been selected, as well as that farthest away, close to
the Trinidad and St. Vincent bastions respectively. In a few hours
the guns will be thundering in a manner which will open your eyes."

The bombardment that followed was, in fact, a revelation to our
hero; for, though Wellington might easily have been better equipped
for a siege, and have had a far superior battering train, the guns
he possessed were nevertheless of service. Nor must it be forgotten
that these same guns had been brought into position only after the
very greatest labour and secrecy; for they had been sent round by sea
from Lisbon, had then been transported up the River Setubal in small
boats, to Alcacer do Sal, and thence by land across the Alemtejo to
the River Guadiana.

Think of the labour involved in such an operation, of the secrecy
necessary to keep the movement from the knowledge of the French.
Think also of the small army of helpers, all taking part in this war,
and yet working out of sound of gun shot, and far from the presence
of the enemy. That, perhaps is a question which escapes the notice
of many. The tale of some campaign brings to light narratives of
gallant deeds, of fierce attacks, of strenuous fighting; it leaves
too often to the imagination of one ignorant of the life of a
soldier, and of the needs of a campaign, all the numerous services
upon which success of an army in the field depends. For if there be
no one to supervise the stores, and to dispatch them to the seat
of war, how can troops operate in a country devoid almost of food,
where ammunition cannot be obtained, and where boots, clothing, and
a thousand other necessary trifles wear out, are lost, or destroyed
with alarming rapidity? Think, then, of the host labouring out of
sight of the enemy, but labouring nevertheless. Think also of the
other numerous band marching with troops as non-combatants, and yet
subject to as great dangers, the very same privations, and bearing
on their shoulders equal, if not greater, responsibilities; for with
the troops there must be men to see to the distribution of food, to
gather stores, and apply for all that is necessary. There must be
trained officers to look to the ailments of horses, and, above all,
perhaps, there must be an army of surgeons to care for the wounded
and the thousands more who go down under privation and exposure.

Riding round the bivouacs of the besieging army after their chat with
the staff officer, Tom began to gather a better impression than he
had ever had before of the numerous duties attached to soldiering.

In the background, well away from the investing regiments, were
many horse lines, where rows of animals were picketed, their riders
being encamped near at hand. Closer to the fortress lay the lines
of regiments engaged in the actual work of the siege, and here many
a camp fire blazed. Whole rows of camp kettles sat over the long
trenches dug in the muddy ground, while the flames from wood fires
swept beneath them and sent billows of odorous steam into the air.
Butchers were at work slaughtering beasts bought for the feeding of
the troops, while not far away a sentry stood guard over a spring
which was the drinking supply for that portion of the army. But
it was still nearer the fortress that the real interest lay; for
there hundreds of men were delving, cutting trenches, and steadily
advancing them toward the enemy. Indeed, that very day, they had need
of every bit of cover; for guns opened from Badajoz, and clouds of
grapeshot swept across the open.

"Hot work, ain't it?" grinned Jack, who with Tom was making a tour
of inspection. "Put your head up, Tom, and take a squint at those
Frenchies."

"And get it shot to pieces for my trouble. Thanks!" came the laughing
answer. "George! Listen to that."

"My uncle!" came from the young adjutant. "A regular torrent. How
long and how often do they pepper you like that?" he asked of the
sapper ensign who had invited them to inspect the work.

"How often? Couldn't say," was the laconic answer, as if the
thunderous discharge of the guns of the enemy, and the roar of clouds
of grape sweeping overhead were an everyday occurrence, and hardly
worth discussion. "Oh, pretty often, especially at night! But it'd be
all right if it weren't for this awful weather. You see, a chap has
to grovel when the guns open, and that's bad for uniforms."

He was something of a dandy, this immaculate ensign of sappers, and
stepped daintily along the deep trenches already constructed by
the British working parties. Tom watched him with admiration as he
brushed some dirt from his laced sleeve with a silk handkerchief, and
then wondered satirically for one brief moment if this young officer
were merely a heap of affectation, useless for any real work, merely
an ornament to the profession to which he belonged.

"Certainly not that," he told himself a few seconds later, after
seeing more of the ensign. "He's a born dandy, perhaps, but he's a
plucky beggar, and a fine example to his men."

That, in fact, was precisely what this ensign was, as was the case
with many another officer in Wellington's army. Example is everything
when men are engaged in strenuous operations; and if those in command
show coolness, determination, sangfroid, and other virtues, their own
particular men are wonderfully heartened. And here was this ensign
coolly flicking dirt from his laced sleeve, while a foot overhead
grapeshot swept past in a torrent. There he was, joking and laughing
with the jovial Jack as if he had not so much as a serious thought
in his head, and as if this were merely a game. But a minute later
he was leading the way to an outwork, strolling negligently across a
portion necessarily exposed to the bullets of the enemy, and showing
not so much as a sign of haste.

"Come along," he sang out to our hero. "It's a little warm crossing,
but it's generally all right. We had three caught by the enemy's
bullets yesterday, but that's because they would stop to star gaze.
Ah, very neat shooting, eh? I declare, the beggar has cut one of my
epaulettes off with his shot!"

It was true enough. Tom had heard a shot fired from the fortress, for
the trench they had just left was within long range of an outwork
manned by the enemy. He had instantly seen the left epaulette of the
ensign rise in the air, spin round merrily, and then fall to the
ground. And the young officer only showed annoyance at such an injury
being done to his uniform! As for the men stationed in the trench
behind, and those in the earthwork for which they were making, they
watched the little scene with grins of amusement and delight.

"Dicky Silvester, ensign. That's him," growled one of the sappers
hoarsely to his neighbours. "Joined us a year ago, or less, and looks
and acts as if he were a born soldier, and didn't care a fig for
bullets or anything else. Who are the other orficers? Ain't they cool
'uns too? My hat, Dicky ain't the only one as don't give a hang for
bullets!"

The cool behaviour of the three even raised a cheer before they had
entered the earthwork, calling a sharp order from the ensign.

"What's this?" he demanded, dropping slowly out of shot of the enemy,
a manoeuvre which Tom and Jack followed. "Laughing and cheering when
there's work to be done! Here----"

Another patch of dirt on his uniform distracted his attention and
cut short the speech. As for the men, they dashed their picks again
into the ground and went on with their delving. Then whispers passed
amongst them.

"Blessed ef I don't think as the toff of an orficer in staff uniform
ain't Mr. Tom Clifford, him as held up them Portuguese in a church,
commanding the Frenchies who'd taken him as prisoner," said one.
"Ain't that the one?"

"And went right into Ciudad Rodrigo t' other day," agreed his
comrade, "and come galloping out dressed as a gal. He's the boy. Law!
He looks at Badajoz as if he was hungry to get inside, and had more
almost to do with this siege than we have."

Tom might indeed have been accused of that, for those wretchedly wet
days in March, 1812, found him frequently in the trenches, watching
as parallels were dug, eagerly measuring the advance of the busy army
of sappers digging their way closer to the fortress. Or he would lie
behind one of the batteries by day and by night, and would listen
to the thunder of the guns, and would watch for the tell-tale spout
of dust which shot into the air as the huge iron ball struck the
bastion. Then would come the clatter of falling masonry, followed
perhaps by a cheer from the gunners. More often the shot would be
answered by a terrific hail of grape, which pattered overhead, swept
the entire face of the batteries--and but for the fascines erected
to give cover every one of the gunners would have been killed--then
whizzed across the open, splashing into the many pools of water which
had been left by the heavy and almost continuous rain. It seemed,
indeed, slow work this siege operation; slow and perhaps not too sure.

"For even when the breaches are practicable there are the defenders
to be dealt with," thought Tom. "There will be mines to blow us up,
obstructions of every sort, and grape and shot showered down upon us.
But take the place we will; I mean to be one of the very first inside
the fortress."

Any doubts Tom may have had as to the determination of Lord
Wellington were soon set at rest; for, the weather still continuing
atrocious, and the trenches being flooded and almost uninhabitable,
an assault of the Picurina was ordered, and the fort carried with
brilliant dash by 500 men of the 3rd Division. The storm of shot
and shell poured into the fort after we had gained possession of
it was such that one wondered how the new garrison could live, for
Phillipon, the commander of the French, did his utmost to drive us
out. But our men stuck grimly to the task, and again plying their
busy spades, soon had advanced to a point where batteries could be
erected. And then began a trial of skill and endurance between the
gunners of France and those of England. By day and by night the
neighbourhood echoed to the roar. A pall of smoke hung over fortress
and encampment, while in the depths of night guns flashed redly, and
spluttering portfires hovered here and there as the gunners stood to
their pieces. At length the work was done; the breaches were declared
practicable, though to view them and the grim lines hovering in
rear, prepared to defend every inch of the steeply-sloping rubbish,
would have caused any but brave men to shiver. But Wellington's men
were as determined as he; they had set their hearts on gaining the
fortress. The call for a forlorn hope, as ever, produced a swarm
of volunteers. That night of 6 April, a night the anniversary of
which is ever kept with loving memory by those who now serve in the
regiments then present at Badajoz, found 18,000 bold fellows craving
for the signal which should launch them to the attack, craving for
the signal which, alas! would launch many and many a gallant officer
and lad into eternity. Let us, too, remember those heroes with
honour, recollecting that by their gallantry and dash they helped in
the work in progress, and that every fortress won in this Peninsula
campaign was yet another step forward, a step that would add to the
difficulties of Bonaparte, and which, with those which followed,
ultimately brought about his downfall. Let us honour them as gallant
souls who cast off the yoke then weighing upon the peoples of Europe.

"You'll go with the stormers?" asked Jack of Tom, almost beneath his
breath, as the two stood side by side in the trenches.

"I've obtained permission, and go I shall," came the determined
answer. "Now recollect, Jack, what I've said. If Badajoz is taken,
the rascal who has captured my people will do his best to get out of
the place. See that our men are lively when the first streak of dawn
comes, and let them arrest any civilian."

"Good luck! Take care," gasped Jack, loath to part with his old
friend. "I'll watch outside and see that all is done as you've
directed; but do take care. Recollect, the regiment can't do without
you."

He was sent off with a merry laugh from Tom, and straightway
clambered up a rise from which he could view the proceedings. A
strange silence hung about the fortress. Within and without the
trenches, packed in the batteries, and in many another part lay the
stormers, waiting, waiting for that signal. Picton's division on the
right crouched over their scaling ladders, ready to rush to the walls
of the castle. On the left, Sir James Leith's division waited to make
a false attack on the Pardeleras, an outside work. But the Bastion de
San Vincente was the real point of attack, and Walker's brigade, part
of this division, was destined to assault it. The Light Division was
to dash for the Santa Maria quarter, while the 4th was to hurl itself
against the breach in the Trinidad quarter. The St. Roque bastion,
in between these two latter, was to be stormed by Major Wilson, who
was in command of the guards of the trenches. Finally, the Portuguese
were to see what could be done with the Tête de Pont, the outwork on
the far bank of the River Guadiana, commanding the head of the bridge.

A dull hum above the trenches told of excitement. Flickering lights
and a subdued murmur above the fortress showed that the defenders
were prepared. Silently men gathered before the 4th and the Light
Division, men provided with ladders and axes, with but few rounds of
ammunition, and freed of their knapsacks. Each carried a sack filled
with hay, which, it was hoped, would give some cover. And before
those two parties waiting in front of the two divisions, and each
counting 500 men, there fell in yet again two parties of heroes,
the forlorn hopes, the officers and men who were sworn to enter the
fortress, to show the way in, or to die in the attempt, noble souls
who worked not for gold as a reward, but only for the honour and
glory of their country.

Ah! a blaze of light from a carcass hurled from the wall showed one
of those advance parties. Shouts echoed from the fortress, then there
came the splash of flame from guns, the spurting tongues of fire
belched from muskets, and the thunder of the explosions. Cheers and
hurrahs broke from our men. What matter if the alarm had been sounded
half an hour before Wellington was to give the fatal signal? They
were ready--the boys of the Light Brigade, the heroes of the 4th
Division--the stormers all along the walls were ready. A mad babel
broke the former silence or semi-silence, portfires flashed in all
directions, while fireballs were hurled into the ditches, lighting
the way of the stormers. Pandemonium was let loose at Badajoz that
night. A cloudy, star-strewn sky looked down upon horrors which one
hopes may never be repeated. For on the side of the French was shown
great bravery and demoniacal cunning. Every artifice of the besieged
was employed, while on the side of the British soldiers a mad, a
frantic courage was displayed. What if mines did burst and blow
hundreds to pieces? Their comrades dashed down into the ditch without
hesitation, and cast themselves into the selfsame breach where the
tragedy had been perpetrated. What if the enemy did cast bags of
gunpowder into the confused ranks of the stormers? It was all the
more inducement to them to dash onward.

To describe all that occurred would be beyond us. Let us follow our
hero, though, and see what happened in his direction. Tom was one of
the forlorn hope. Shouldering his hay pack, and gripping his sword,
he dashed at the breach before him when the alarm was given. The
stunning discharge of a cannon to his front almost swept him from his
feet, and cleared a lane through the comrades before him. A fireball
danced down the steep slope of the breach and blazed brightly,
showing the faces and figures of the enemy plainly, the muskets they
were levelling, and an appalling _chevaux de frise_ erected at the
top of the breach. Composed of naked sabre blades secured to logs of
wood, this obstacle awaited the stormers before they could come to
hand grips with the enemy. But that was not all. Tom stumbled over a
boulder, floundered on to his face, and was then lifted boldly and
flung aside by a mighty concussion.

"A mine," he thought. "Am I alive or not? What's happened to the
others?"

He might well ask that. The poor fellows were swept out of existence
almost to a man; but behind them were the noble five hundred, and in
rear again the gallant Light Division. Before them was the breach;
that terrible breach, with its defenders, its guns, its awful
obstacle, and the hundred-and-one means there for the destruction
of the stormers. Time and again did men dash at it. Gallant souls,
driven crazy by the hazard they endured, and filled with fearful
determination, clambered to that _chevaux de frise_ and were there
slaughtered. Officers stood in full sight of the enemy calling to
their men, leading them upward. And yet none could enter.

Elsewhere the fighting had been equally strenuous. After many and
many an attempt the castle was at length won, and later Walker's
brigade tore its gallant way over the San Vincente Bastion,
victorious in spite of mines and guns fired at point-blank range.
It was from that quarter, in fact, that success at length came;
for the Light and the 4th Divisions had as yet failed to burst
their way through the breaches before them. But an advance from the
direction of San Vincente took the defenders in the rear, and just
as our men had retired at the orders of Wellington, preparatory to a
fresh attack, those breaches were taken. Men burst in now from all
directions; the enemy fled for the most part to Fort Christoval,
over the river, and Badajoz was ours. Cheers and counter cheers
were heard in all quarters. The wounded sat up as best they could
and joined in the jubilation, and then pandemonium again broke out
in every street of the city; for the victorious troops straightway
got out of hand. They poured in a torrent through the streets of
Badajoz, rifling the houses, and, breaking into the cabarets, helped
themselves to the wines of Spain. That early morning, in fact,
discovered a terrible situation in the fortress; for of order there
was none. Drunken soldiers staggered over the pavements committing
violence everywhere, while as many more were pillaging or doing
actual violence to the unfortunate inhabitants. And all that while
Tom Clifford lay on the slope of the breach which with many another
gallant soul he had endeavoured to storm. Regiments passed over
him. The surgeons and their bearers came and went in search of the
wounded, and passed him always. For Tom lay stark and still. With his
face half-buried in the torn tunic of a soldier who had died while
doing his duty, and his limbs curled up as if he were asleep, he lay
without a movement, appearing not even to breathe, lifeless to those
who cast a casual glance at him.

"Dead!" groaned Jack and Andrews when at length they found him.
"Killed by the mine which wiped out every man of 'the forlorn hope.'
Poor Tom!"

"Breathing!" shouted Alfonso, who also accompanied him. "I tell you
he is still alive."

That brought them all about him, and within a few minutes our hero
was being carried from the breach. But was he living still? Was
Badajoz to see the end of a promising career, and put a stop to his
quest? Or would Tom Clifford appear upon the scenes again, and still
have something to say to the rascal who had abducted both father and
uncle?



CHAPTER XV

Round about Badajoz


There was a business-like air about the jovial Jack Barwood on the
second morning after the fall of Badajoz, a seriousness about the
smart young adjutant to which his friends were unaccustomed, a
furrowing of his youthful brow, and an appearance of intentness and
determination which would have aroused the friendly satire of old
comrades. Dressed in the smart uniform of the gallant 60th Rifles,
he marched briskly along one of the quieter streets, passing as he
did so a half-company of infantry escorting a batch of semi-drunken
soldiers, the gallant souls amongst Wellington's army who, now that
the fighting was over, had lost all sense of discipline, and, aching
no doubt for the many good things to which they had been strangers
for so long, had burst their way into private dwellings and had
behaved like scoundrels instead of brave soldiers.

Jack took the salute of a Portuguese guerrilla sentry marching
sedately to and fro before a huge door, and that too of a Spaniard,
one also of the band under Tom's command.

"Well?" he questioned in Portuguese, his accent none of the best.
"Any news? Any more callers?"

"None, _señor_."

"And the news?"

"Good, _señor_; he lives. He will get well and strong to command us."

There was a gleam of pleasure in the eyes of the two sentries as Jack
spoke, while they watched him beat upon the door and enter.

"A fine officer; one of the English!" exclaimed the Spaniard, who
seemed to be on the best of terms with the Portuguese guerrilla, a
strange occurrence in those days. "If the worst were to come to the
worst----"

"Yes," responded the other, in a patois both could understand, "yes,
he would command. But it would not be the same; the _Señor_ Tom is
one man, the _Señor_ Jack another."

Inside stood the faithful Andrews and Howeley, drawn stiffly to
attention, saluting their officer. Jack's serious face brightened.

"Well?" he demanded again, as if he were short of words.

"Better, sir, beggin' pardon," came from Andrews, with his accustomed
formula demanding pardon. "Surgeon's been and gone; says as Mr.
Clifford's as hard as rocks, and if he wasn't he'd have been trampled
and banged to pieces. Swears as he must have fust of all been blowed
skyhigh, and then charged over by a thousand of the stormers.
He's takin' notice of things, sir, is Mr. Clifford. Axing fer the
regiment, and you. He'd have been out of bed if I hadn't prevented
him--and, my word, he were a handful!"

"Ah!" ejaculated Jack, a grin rising on his solemn features. "A
handful! Tom's that all the time. Wanted to get up, eh?"

"Yes, sir," grunted the rifleman, still stiffly at attention. "'Not
you, sir,' I says; 'you're as weak as a kitten.' 'Rot!' he whispers,
'cos he can't speak no higher. 'I've got work, Andrews.' 'So has we
all,' I answers. 'Orders is orders, sir.' 'Eh?' he asks, sharp-like,
as you know, sir. 'Orders that you're to stay abed, sir,' I says, not
half-liking things. 'Orders be hanged,' he tries to shout, struggling
to get up, and then falling back on the pillow."

"Like him," smiled Jack. "Anyway he's safe now, eh?"

If it were a question of our hero's security from interference,
then there was little doubt; for beside those two sentries parading
outside the courtyard of the house in which he lay, there were a
dozen more at different points, with Andrews and Howeley to supervise
them. Nor were such precautions to be wondered at when the tale of
the last few hours was told. Tom had not only passed through the
dangers of a siege. True, he had escaped the ordeal at the breaches,
and had been borne still breathing into the town. But there another
danger had suddenly assailed him; for no sooner was he laid in bed,
and Jack had departed, than the watchful Andrews had discovered a
sneaking form clambering in by one of the windows. Had Andrews been
Septimus John Clifford's head clerk he would then and there have made
a discovery of vast importance, and one which we will at once hand on
to the reader. For this sneaking intruder, bearing a stiletto in one
hand, was none other than José de Esteros, Tom's cousin, now sunk to
the lowest depths of infamy, and forestalled just in the nick of time
in the endeavour to carry out further villainy. He had made good his
escape, and, as a result, Tom's little command now watched over their
damaged leader.

The best of food, the most careful attention on the part of the army
surgeon, and the tenderest nursing at the hands of Andrews and others
were already having their effect, and so, for a while, we may leave
our hero, satisfied that he will bob up again in the future and
encounter more adventures in this memorable campaign.

Let us then step outside the walls of Badajoz, walls conquered at
huge sacrifice by the British, and after the most gallant fighting.
For it will already have been gathered that this Peninsula campaign
was full of incidents, all of which the space at our disposal
prevents our mentioning. In the circumstances it will be readily
understood that with troops operating here and there over a wide
stretch of country there were numerous affairs, some mere skirmishes,
some approaching a big engagement, which, while they each and every
one undoubtedly helped on the end at which our leaders aimed, and
are with equal certainty recorded in official histories, yet for the
purposes of this narrative are of small account.

Beginning in 1808, as already recorded, this memorable campaign had
at first seen a succession of commanders sent by the vacillating
Ministry in England, and of these the great Wellington alone
remained, having proved his right to lead our armies. Those momentous
months since the opening of the campaign had witnessed, as the reader
will remember, the dismissal of the French from Portugal and the
advance of our armies into Spain. The tragedy of Sir John Moore's
retreat over the border had followed; and we have seen Wellington
forced backward in Portugal itself, till the enemy held the country
right down to the formidable heights of Torres Vedras. And then had
come the turn of the tide. The vast masses of men controlled by
Napoleon had been sent to the rightabout, and here, in the eventful
year 1812, we find Portugal once more swept clean of the enemy, and
the important fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and of Badajoz in the
hands of the British. The tide had turned, we say, and, like the
energetic and astute leader he was, the great Wellington at once
proceeded to follow up these successes, and to push on into the heart
of Spain, with the one object of forcing the enemy finally to quit
the Peninsula.

But no narrative of the events which had already happened would
be complete without mention of a force, subtle enough and slow to
be seen at first, which was now steadily aiding the efforts of our
soldiers. Despite the criminal neglect of our ambassador in Madrid,
despite, too, the wicked opposition and folly of the Spanish Junta
in particular, and in smaller measure of the Portuguese Junta, both
of which bodies had persistently opposed each and every aim of the
British, our armies had fought and won. Often enough the gallant,
thin red line had been basely left by the fleeing troops of Portugal
and Spain to face the onslaught of Napoleon's trained battalions.
And yet that thin red line of gallant souls had conquered. Their
persistence, their cheerful bravery in the face of enormous odds, and
their bull-dog, strenuous fighting had told its tale on the masses
of the enemy. Scepticism as to their worth as soldiers, a scepticism
natural, perhaps, to troops highly trained, and till then victorious
in all directions, had been changed to hearty respect, if not to
actual fear. That feeling of respect engendering fear and caution
alone was the subtle force now aiding our armies. Each man, whether
officer or private, had the utmost confidence in his leaders and
in his comrades; while the French, bearing the late prowess of the
British in mind, wondered whether success were now as certain as they
had imagined. Who knows? The persistent advance of our armies, the
skill of our leaders, and the bull-dog courage of our men may well
have had their effect upon the great Napoleon himself. Accustomed
to see his arms successful in every venture, he found in the British
a foe who knew no defeat, and who pressed him always. For the
Portuguese this restless Emperor may have had some respect; for the
Spanish he had only hatred, since their determination not to accept
his brother as their king, and their incessant rioting and attacks
upon his soldiers had caused him trouble and anxiety. Now there were
the British to deal with. British opposition had wrested Portugal
from the all-conquering Emperor of France. She was now thrusting
her way into the heart of Andalusia. That meant further strenuous
fighting, and if past records were to be repeated, it meant further
British victories, in spite of the mass of Napoleon's armies. Who
knows, then, we suggest, that this fear may have weighed with the
restless Emperor of the French, with the ambitious and avaricious
little corporal? To be balked in his wishes was with him ever, as
with all such men, galling in the extreme. Here, in the Peninsula,
our coming and our intervention had resulted in tremendous efforts
on the part of Napoleon, efforts set aside by Wellington's armies.
And now the tide had turned. What wonder if Napoleon, realizing
that here he was on the verge of a defeat, turned his eyes to other
conquests? Whatever the cause, Russia now attracted the attention
of the Emperor. He had ridden posthaste for Paris. France, groaning
already beneath the weight of taxation necessary to maintain such
huge armies in the field, was being bled still further, both in
money and men, to provide another army of conquest. Troops were
already massing on the borders of Russia, and soon was to arrive that
calamity which will always hold a prominent place in the histories
of the world. For Napoleon was marching to defeat. The plains of
Russia were to see his armies swept almost out of existence, while
the crops now ripening at the beginning of summer, a summer which
Wellington in Spain had determined to make the greatest use of, were
to flare up before Napoleon's troops could lay their hungry hands on
them. Moscow, the city of promise, the magnet drawing the ambitious
and reckless Emperor to destruction, was to burn before his eyes,
and thereafter snow and frost and desperate hunger were to fight his
armies silently, while Cossacks in their thousands hung like a swarm
of flies about the flanks, slaughtering the helpless.

But we are forestalling events. Napoleon had left the Peninsula for
other and, as he imagined no doubt, easier conquests, leaving his
generals in Spain the difficult task of driving out a British army
which, with few exceptions, had proved itself absolutely invincible.

Portugal was entirely in the hands of the British. Spain was
beckoning strongly. Wellington, gathering his faithful and war-worn
troops about him, was about to plunge into the heart of Andalusia,
and, quitting the siege of fortresses, was eager to try conclusions
with the enemy in the open. But he was ever a careful man, and as a
preliminary to invasion and attack upon the Duke of Ragusa he planned
the destruction of the bridge erected at Almarez, spanning the Tagus,
and protected by forts immensely strengthened by the French. Here
were known to be collected huge stores of ammunition, while the
bridge itself served as a means of communication between one French
army and another. With the crossing destroyed, Wellington might hope
to throw himself upon the enemy with good chance of success; for by
keeping the various forces of the enemy apart he might reasonably
expect to beat them in detail, victory against the vast masses of
French when combined being out of the question. Thus Almarez and the
bridge spanning the historic Tagus now attracted his attention, as
well as the formidable forts erected to protect the same.

Let us describe in a few words the condition of the surrounding
country. From Almarez itself to the city of Toledo the left bank of
the River Tagus is hemmed in by a range of steep mountains. From
Almarez again to the Portuguese frontier, roads in those days were
almost non-existent, and the crossing in any case most difficult;
while farther east the bridges at Arzobispo and Talavera were covered
by the neighbouring high ground.

The River Tagus itself separated the armies of Soult and of Marmont,
and, seeing that Soult's pontoon train had been captured in Badajoz,
there was left no other means of communication between the armies
than the bridge of boats at Almarez, which the critical eye of
Wellington had already selected for destruction. But, as we have
hinted, there were difficulties in the way; for in view of the
importance of the place, and of the mass of stores of one sort or
another concentrated there, the French had made every preparation
to protect the bridge. A fort had been erected on the north bank,
another at the opposite end of the bridge, while the heights
immediately adjacent on the latter side had been connected by a chain
of works which a casual inspection would have said defied assault.
Yet Wellington considered that Sir Rowland Hill, in command of a
force 6000 strong, would contrive to overcome all difficulties, and
that gallant officer promptly marched from the camp which the British
had now formed, for since the fall of Badajoz our forces had marched
north to the Tagus, and had crossed the river. A small expeditionary
arm was therefore within striking distance of the all-important
crossing at Almarez. Secrecy, as in the case of the descents on
Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, was essential in this adventure, and
Sir Rowland, therefore, marched at night-time, secreting his whole
force in the wood of Jarciejo during the day, this wood being in
the immediate neighbourhood of the enemy. Then his men were divided
into three columns, and in the early hours, while darkness yet hid
the land, they set out upon an expedition destined to prove amongst
the most brilliant of any recorded during this long campaign in the
Peninsula. For the plans of generals, like those of other more
humble individuals perhaps, are destined at times to be overthrown,
and here was an example. That secrecy at which Sir Rowland Hill
aimed was destroyed by a combination of circumstances, so that the
garrisons of the forts about to be attacked became aware of his
intentions. Yet the work was done, and done brilliantly, though only
at a heavy sacrifice. The forts were taken, the bridge secured, while
the losses of the enemy were very heavy. Then, expedition being an
essential point, mines were laid, and the works, or a portion of
them, destroyed. When Sir Rowland returned to Wellington's camp he
was able to report the success of the expedition, while Wellington
himself was now able seriously to consider the question of an attack
upon the enemy in the open; for the first step toward that effort
had been taken. Easy communication between the enemy was destroyed,
and now had come the opportunity to seek out and beat in detail the
armies of Napoleon.

Forward, then, was the order, and 21st July, 1812, found Wellington
and his army north of the Tagus, close to Salamanca and to the
Rivers Tormes and Huebra, having meanwhile cleared the intervening
country and besieged the Salamanca forts. Marmont, with his French
battalions, now lay before him; for they had crossed the river
between Huerta and Tormes, and were endeavouring to secure the road
to Ciudad Rodrigo. However, if Wellington, as a clever tactician, as
he undoubtedly was, had as his object the division of the enemy's
forces, with a view of beating them in detail, Marmont also was not
unskilful. Remembering the comparative paucity of the British troops,
and the fact that they had, as it were, burned their boats behind
them, he hoped to throw his troops between our regiments and the
fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, then garrisoned by British, thus not only
cutting communication between Wellington and the fortress, but also
drawing a line of fire and steel between the British and Portugal, to
which country they would naturally retreat in case of defeat or in
the event of huge odds being concentrated against them.

Thus, having brought our gallant fellows face to face with an equally
gallant enemy in the open, and having reviewed the movements of
this difficult and complex campaign, we can leave the two rival
armies in position for battle, and can once more seek out Tom
Clifford, commander of the composite force of Portuguese and Spanish
guerrillas, which, amidst a host of irregular British allies--some
good, some indifferent, and some altogether useless and even
dangerous--had already earned a name for energy and a patriotic
spirit worthy of emulation amongst many chicken-hearted countrymen.
Back, then, to Badajoz, let us retrace our steps, and, accepting
the salutes of the Spanish and Portuguese sentries--smart fellows
both--hammer on the door of the courtyard and enter, there to be
greeted by the faithful Howeley and Andrews.

Some weeks had passed since Tom had joined the forlorn hope, and had
been blown like a stone down the steep scarp of the breach effected
by our gunners. He sat in an armchair, his feet on a stool, Jack
Barwood discussing matters with him, and at the same time smoking a
pipe which he had secured in the dwelling.

"Of course," Tom was saying in his business-like way, "orders are
orders. But----"

"They're a beastly nuisance for all that. Granted," was Jack's
interruption. "Well?"

"And, equally of course, must be obeyed. 'Pon my word, Jack, you
seem to be as keen as I am on this quest. What's it to do with you,
anyway?"

"Nothing; everything." Jack took a heavy pull at his pipe, choked
suddenly, and then glared at the pipe as if it had done him a
mischief.

"Awful country," he grumbled. "Decent food ungetable, decent beds
unknown. Tobacco--ugh! it'd sicken a Billingsgate porter! But this
business interests me. Why? you ask. Here's why. Fair play is a thing
I like; foul play gets up my dander. Of course I know the whole story
now. This cousin chap first took food and lodging from your father
and pretended gratitude; then he managed to work things so as to have
you impressed. There I owe him a grudge; for if he hadn't, where
should I be, eh?"

"Eh?" repeated Tom, a little puzzled.

"That's just it," went on the ensign in an aggrieved tone of voice.
"Who'd have had the command of those French troopers? Who'd have
brought them through that mess? Who'd now be promoted to the command
of a regiment of guerrillas?"

He might have been the most injured of individuals, to look at him.
Jack rose to his feet and bashed the offending pipe heavily on a
table. And then he grinned at Tom.

"My uncle!" he exclaimed; "you are a flat! Yes, even if you are my
superior, I can call you that. Took everything I said as if it were
meant seriously. Where should I have been, eh? Dead, Tom--dead as a
bullock. Shot outside that Portuguese church, and cut to mincemeat by
those rascals. But this business of yours interests me solely because
you happen to be a pal of mine, and in my opinion very much injured.
This José is a scoundrel. What's more, I believe him to be at the
bottom of all these troubles. He's that spy, sir, I declare! He's
the very same scoundrel who crept in here with the idea of doing you
a mortal mischief. There, think it out, and don't wonder if I am a
little interested in this curious and blackguardly mystery."

Could this really be the case? Was José de Esteros not only the
rascal who had caused Tom's impressment, as we know, and Tom and his
friends now knew, to be the case; but also, was he the treacherous
ruffian who had been feeding the enemy with news of Wellington's
movements, whose messenger our hero had displaced outside Ciudad
Rodrigo? Could Tom's cousin be the selfsame villain who had abducted
his father and uncle, and who later on had endeavoured to creep into
this house in Badajoz and murder the gallant officer so nearly killed
in the storming?

"Humbug!" Tom declared, nursing the arm which he had worn in a sling
since receiving his injuries. "I grant that José was the cause of my
impressment. There I owe him a grudge, Jack."

"Eh?" asked the adjutant, stoking his pipe with a finger and pulling
at it vainly. "How?"

"Been troubled with a certain Jack Barwood ever since," came the
serious answer. And then Tom went off into roars of laughter, while
Jack pretended indignation.

"Granted that José was the cause of that portion," Tom continued. "We
know he came to Oporto; there we lose sight of him. The spy comes on
the scene. Granted here, again, that he it was who abducted my father
and uncle, for the note left was in the same handwriting as that
other we secured outside Ciudad Rodrigo; but that doesn't say that
José was the spy, even if you argue that he has reasons for wishing
to abduct my two relatives. Now, does it?"

"But the handwriting? It's like his; you forget that."

"I don't; I agree that, from what I can remember of it, there is a
similarity. But I'm not by any means sure; besides, José couldn't be
such a rascal."

Jack's reply was as emphatic as many others. "Stuff and nonsense!"
he blurted out. "A man who tries to get rid of a cousin with whom he
has lived all his life, as this fellow did, will take on any piece of
rascality. Look at his actions on arrival at Oporto, and think of his
cunning. My boy, this José's at the bottom of the whole matter, so
keep your eye open."

How Tom was to keep his eye open his adjutant failed to explain, nor
was there any further evidence to convict José of this added piece
of rascality. Tom was still in ignorance of the personality of the
spy whom he had traced to Oporto, and thence to Badajoz. He knew that
the man was responsible for the abduction of Septimus and Don Juan de
Esteros. But was José the spy? Was the spy the man who had crept into
these quarters in Badajoz with the obvious intention of slaying Tom,
and, if so, what was his object?

"It's José all the time," declared Jack, cocksure of the fact.

"Doubtful," repeated Tom, still refusing to believe his cousin
capable of such villainy. "But leave it at that. The fellow's gone,
and taken with him his two captives; the next thing to do is to
follow."

"Wrong; the next move is to obey orders."

Jack had become a very useful adjutant by now, and showed his
promptness by handing Tom the orders which lay upon the table. Our
hero almost ground his teeth as he read them; for there, in black
and white, were definite commands for the regiment to march for the
Tagus, and there join hands with Wellington's army. Never, in fact,
had orders been worse received. Hitherto Tom had been the first to
welcome them; now they came between him and private business.

"But duty first," he told himself. "We'll march before the week's
out, for those are the instructions. Meanwhile we've at least heard
something. Read the report again," he said, signing to his friend.

Jack picked up a paper, and promptly obliged him. "Here we are,"
he said. "Alfonso reports that following orders he has continued
to patrol the surroundings of the fortress. A covered carriage was
driven out just before dusk last evening. It was stopped and found to
be empty. The driver stated he was going to a country place to fetch
in an invalid. Later, when the carriage was well beyond our circle,
it stopped beside a convoy of carts going from the fortress. Sharp
questioning of the man in charge brought the admission that men were
hidden among the contents of the carts, two of whom were bound and
gagged. They were placed in the carriage, which was instantly driven
away down the road, and when our men arrived was out of hearing.
Though they searched, it was in vain. The scoundrel had got away with
his captives."

"And then?" asked Tom, listening without sign of emotion.

"Close enquiries here discovered the fact that a carriage had been
hired to take a gentleman to Madrid. That's all."

That indeed was all the information that our hero or his friends had
been able to come by. The strenuous efforts and the danger which Tom
had incurred in endeavouring to make an early entry into Badajoz had
resulted in nothing. The miscreant who gave information to the enemy
had slipped out with his captives, and there were our heroes none the
nearer to success. They were farther off, in fact, for there, on the
table, were orders taking them north to the Tagus, while it seemed
likely enough that Tom's father and uncle had been hurried east to
Madrid, where search for them, if ever the opportunity came, would be
long and difficult.

"Can't be helped. When orders allow, we'll make a rush for the city,"
said Tom. "Meanwhile, it's off to the Tagus!"

"To join the army again--hooray!" shouted Jack. "That means a big
general engagement; it means fighting, my boy! Perhaps it'll give us
both promotion."

Hard knocks, wounds, and exposure were more likely to be their
portion. But what did these two young officers care? What would other
officers of a similar age in these days care? Nothing. Rather they
were elated at the prospect of taking a share in a pitched battle,
and had not so much as a qualm when at length they reached the
neighbourhood of Salamanca. As for their men, confident now of their
ability to fight, proud of what they had already done, they marched
to their allotted quarters in the camp with a tramp and a swing that
commanded attention.

"General Lord Wellington's compliments," began a staff officer,
galloping up just as Tom had inspected his men, and had called upon
Jack to dismiss the parade. "Are you Lieutenant Clifford?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then have the goodness to ride over to headquarters at once; his
lordship desires to see you."

"Hooray!" cried Jack, careless of decorum, hurrying up at the moment.
"That'll mean business, my boy. The general's got a special job for
our guerrillas."

And Wellington had. When Tom had been ushered into the tent which
housed the leader of the British army he found that painstaking
individual seated on a camp stool carefully measuring distances on a
map stretched on a table before him. Tom stood stiffly at attention,
and though the staff officer who ushered him twice called his name,
there was no answer. Then suddenly a point of the compasses was
struck into the map and an exclamation escaped the general.

"If he moves there, we have him," he cried. "Then all depends on the
Spaniards. Ah!" He shut the map hurriedly, and looked at Tom as if
he thought him to be a suspicious person. Then, recognizing him, he
smiled.

"The officer the French will not fight," he said cheerfully. "The
Englishman they did their best to destroy in the breaches at Badajoz.
You are recovered, sir?"

"Perfectly," Tom hastened to assure him, fearful that a fancied
weakness might cause the general to choose another officer for any
special work he might have in prospect.

"And will accept a special risk?"

Tom drew himself up stiffly. With anyone else there would have been
a note of injury in the answer; for had he shirked special risk in
the past? Ciudad Rodrigo was a telling answer to such a question. And
Wellington realized the fact as soon as he had spoken.

"I take it for granted that you are more than ready," he said. "Good!
Then the mission I have is somewhat similar to that other. You saw
me close this plan hurriedly? I did it unknowingly, impelled by the
fear that you might be a stranger; for here is my story. Maps and
plans jealously guarded by us have disappeared, my dispatch case
has been broken open. My officers have information that there is a
small gang of rascals who trade on our secrets. I want to bring that
gang to book, if it exists. Now, Mr. Clifford, once more I make no
suggestions, and give no orders. You will act as you think best.
After to-morrow you are free to carry out whatever seems best to you.
Remember, after to-morrow."

That was all. Tom found himself outside the tent, still saluting.

"A pretty job to unravel," he told himself. "And what's on to-morrow?"

Yes, what was to happen when the day broke once more across the
smooth surface of the River Tormes?

There was to be war, real war, war in the open, the like of which Tom
had never before witnessed.



CHAPTER XVI

The Battle of Salamanca


The gentle tinkle of convent bells, the lowing of distant oxen,
and the cheery whistling and singing of the men of Wellington's
1st Division awakened Tom on the morrow of his arrival in the
neighbourhood of Salamanca. He shook off his blanket and rose,
stretching himself, then inhaled the balmy summer air, and enjoyed
the hazy view over the heights of the Arapiles, a precipitous part
adjacent to the city, and split into two portions, known as the
Sister Arapiles.

A thousand bivouac fires were smoking, a thousand and more busy cooks
struggled to prepare the rations for the day, while soldiers came and
went carrying ammunition, food, fodder, and water, or leading long,
roped lines of horses up from the river.

What a bustle there was about the camp, what order and method, and
what cheerfulness. A band was playing over by the headquarters tent,
above which flew General Lord Wellington's flag. A battery of guns
went trundling by, the men in their shirt sleeves, for they were
merely taking up another position, and the business of the day had
not begun.

And yonder were the enemy, some 42,000 strong, with 74 guns, with
cavalry and every branch which goes to the completion of an army.
Already these thousands were astir; the French bivouac fires had
been stamped out, and the morning meal eaten. There came the blare
of trumpets across the breeze, drowning the peaceful tinkle of the
convent bells and the pleasant lowing of cattle. Drums rattled away
in the far distance, while dust began to rise over road and plain,
as the battalions of the enemy marched hither and thither to take
up their posts for the coming conflict. For a battle was imminent.
Wellington with much patience and forethought had prepared the way
for it. He had cleared Portugal of the foreign invader. He had
captured Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, but at what cost and suffering!
That last manoeuvre had wrecked the bridge at Almarez, and had
destroyed the huge stores collected there by the enemy. But now he
was face to face with one of their armies, Marmont's, the Duke of
Ragusa, and was eager to try his strength with them, while they, to
do them justice, were just as ready.

"Mr. Clifford, commanding the composite regiment of Portuguese and
Spanish irregulars?"

The staff officer reined in his mount at Tom's feet and saluted.

"Here, sir."

"You will see that your men draw rations, and take their water
bottles filled, also ammunition; then march for General Pack's
brigade and report to him. They are over there; you can see the dark
uniforms."

He galloped away without waiting for Tom to reply, and they saw him
racing across to headquarters. Other aides-de-camp were cantering
from that same place, and in a little while bugles and drums were
sounding amidst the British lines, while men were falling in by
regiments.

"Parade present and correct, sir," reported Jack, riding up as Tom
clambered into his saddle.

"Keep them as they are then, Mr. Barwood," came Tom's most polite
answer; for on duty there was no joking between these two young
officers. "I'll say a few words to them first, before we move off.
We've to join General Pack's Portuguese brigade, so our fellows will
be fighting alongside their countrymen to-day."

"Yes, sir; and they'll show 'em the way."

"And cover themselves with credit. They look well," reflected Tom,
as the two rode on to the ground in front of their little corps, and
drew rein some few paces from them. "Smart; no doubt about it. Don't
see a sign of funking."

"No, sir. Shall I call up the other officer and our non-coms?"

"Please, and quickly with it."

Alfonso halted before our hero, his face brimming over with
enthusiasm. He saluted, and waited. Then came Andrews and Howeley,
both old soldiers; for there was none of your short service then.
The men of the British army, whether recruits or old stagers, filled
their breeches and jackets, and gave good measure round calf and
thigh and chest. The two riflemen were fine specimens of the 60th,
and, being detached from their corps, seemed to hold themselves all
the better, as if to let all and sundry see what a rifle regiment
could do for its members.

"We join Pack's brigade," explained Tom. "They're posted about the
centre and are likely to be in the thick of it. I want you all to
remember that this corps must set an example. We must hold the men
together. If others of the irregulars bolt before the enemy, we won't
have the same said of our fellows. Now, men," he called out. "A word
before we march. There's the enemy before you, yonder is General
Pack's brigade of Portuguese. We go to join them; let every man
remember how this corps has behaved in the past. Hold firmly together
and keep your wits about you. Your courage I know you will hold, for
that you have proved already. For the rest, keep your eyes on your
officers, and recollect that when the press comes, if come it does,
you are fighting for home and country."

A British regiment would have cheered the strangely youthful-looking
staff officer. The mixed guerrillas from the hilltops of Spain and
Portugal stared at him hard. There was a set expression on every
bronzed face, a hard gripping of muskets, and a swinging of all eyes
over to the enemy. And then came the word to march. They stepped out
briskly. Heads erect, muskets at the trail, their commander leading
them, the little corps advanced to take its part for the first time
in a general action. Nor did its smartness pass unobserved.

"What corps is that?" demanded the great Wellington, ever observant,
his eyes in all directions. "All dressed in blue, I think, and--yes,
some wearing the red cockade of Spain. What corps, please?"

"Mr. Clifford's, sir; recruited on the borders, and composed of 300
Portuguese and as many Spanish hillmen. The only corps where the two
nationalities have worked in friendship with one another. They were
in that Ciudad Rodrigo affair, sir; also down at Badajoz."

The spyglass flew to the general's eye, and for a while he watched
the corps striding along. Then he eyed the young commander.

"Good!" he exclaimed, thinking aloud. "They march like veterans.
Their officer conducts himself like a tried general. There's no hurry
about him, but slap-dash-up smartness. If they fight as they march
we've something to boast of. And with such an officer my little
mission is likely to receive attention."

He shut the glass with a bang and went cantering off towards the
heights of the Sister Arapiles, a brilliant staff trailing out behind
him. As for Tom, he held on his way without swerving. Now passing
between halted regiments, now halting his own command to allow of
the passage of a battery or more of guns, which went by at a trot,
obliterating all about them in the clouds of dust tossed up by the
wheels and the hoofs of the horses. Meanwhile the sun flashed in the
distance from a forest of French bayonets, manoeuvring for position,
marching this way or that, while a little later a battery took post
away on the shoulder of one of the sister heights, smoke billowed
from unseen muzzles, while shot tore through the summer air, and came
bounding and ricochetting towards them.

"Report, sir; General Wellington's orders," said Tom, halting his
little corps to the front of Pack's brigade and reporting to that
officer.

"Ah! Reinforcements or reserve!" came the answer, while the gallant
general smiled a welcome. "Smart men yours, sir. Name, may I ask,
please?"

"Clifford, sir, General Lord Wellington's staff, seconded for service
with irregulars."

And then the smile on the general's face broadened. He gripped Tom's
hand warmly. "Ah! The twins, I know," he cried gaily. "The officer
the French refuse to fight, eh?"

Tom, with heightened colour, was forced to confess that it was so.
Then he cast his eyes along the sitting lines of the Portuguese
brigade, garbed in its blue, and wondered how these rough levies
would conduct themselves. A moment later he was sitting erect to
receive his orders.

"March your command to our left, and fall in rear, to act as a
reserve with the companies already detailed for that service. Smart
men, Mr. Clifford, a smart lot of fellows!"

There were thousands of others in Pack's brigade who repeated that
opinion; for, seeing that Tom's men were standing while the remainder
of the brigade were sitting, they were the observed of all observers.

"Halt! Dress on the right--smartly does it," came from Tom.

"Smartly does it!" Jack roared in the stentorian voice becoming to
an adjutant, and--we must confess it--with an accent which brought a
whimsical smile to General Pack's face.

"Lively with it, boys!" shouted Howeley and Andrews together, using a
language half English, a little Portuguese, and the rest nothing in
particular. "Lively does it! Dress up there on the left. 'Shun! Stand
at ease! Back there that swab away on the left."

Rigidly erect, the toes of their English-made boots forming a line
which would have drawn a note of approval even from the lips of a
liverish martinet, Tom's men stood at attention, muskets at the
shoulder, bayonets already fixed. And then, with a clatter, they sat
down, having piled their weapons.

"Two hours since we left camp; perhaps we'd better give 'em some
grub," suggested Jack, peeping into his own haversack. For whatever
may have been the duties of this ensign, he was still just the
overgrown boy, always hungry, always ready for a meal.

"Always growing, that's the reason," he had often explained. "Must
have something at hand to build up an increasing framework."

How those two hours had changed the July morning! The sun swam
redly overhead, approaching the vertical position; a few fine
clouds flecked the sky; while the heights, the distant cork forest
sheltering the French battalions, still looked peaceful enough. But
there was the roar of guns in many directions. Away behind Pack's
brigade, posted on an eminence, and sheltered by the straggling
buildings of a farm, was a British battery, busily pumping shot over
the heads of the sitting brigade at an enemy then invisible to Tom
and his comrades. The answering shot likewise shrieked above the
brigade, and more than once Jack pointed, while men scrambled to
their feet and looked about them as if terrified.

"Don't look well for later on," he jerked out crisply. "But you never
know. Anyway, the bulk of them are taking matters coolly."

No wonder the peace of the land about Salamanca was disturbed; for
to match the masses of the enemy Wellington had collected some
40,000 men, including 3500 cavalry and 54 guns. These he had on
this eventful day beneath his eye, cut up into divisions, and so
placed that he could move his forces rapidly. His right rested on
the foothills of the Sister Arapiles, as yet unoccupied by our men,
but at that moment being scaled by the French legions. His left
extended to the River Tormes, while he himself passed this way and
that, eagerly watching the movements of the enemy. Marmont was even
more busy than Wellington, and there is little doubt but that he
hoped by this general action to smash the power of the commander who
was now such a thorn in his side, and to cut him off from Portugal
completely. His right manoeuvred persistently for the road to Ciudad
Rodrigo, while his left marched on the Arapiles, and now occupied one
of the heights. For the rest, his centre was masked by a cork wood,
through the gaps in which came the reflections from the flashing
bayonets of his battalions.

A burst of firing echoed across the plain from the village of
Arapiles, now occupied by our infantry. Flying figures were seen
struggling down the heights and forming up at their base. Shot
plunged over the heads of Pack's sitting brigade and smote those
descending ranks. And then came the rattle of drums, the cheers of
frantic men, a red flash as muskets were exploded, followed by the
pitter-pat of independent firing. Crash! Bang! Those guns behind the
farm pounded the advancing French, ploughing the ground about them.
The cheers broke out even louder, and were drowned by a torrent of
musketry which flashed round the post held by British infantry.

The same scene, diversified a little, was happening away on our
left, where our battalions manoeuvred against Marmont's, holding
them back from that all-important road. Elsewhere, when not actively
engaged, or making some countering move, troops sat down in their
formation, men nibbled at their rations, while a squadron of horse
slowly cantered across a dusty part, into which the enemy's cannon
ball plumped in quick succession. Tom found himself actually feeling
drowsy, Jack Barwood looked as if he could willingly drop off to
sleep, while some of the regiment were stretched full length, their
eyes tight closed, not even bothering to open them when there came a
clatter near at hand and a ball trundled and roared past them.

Down below those heights, to which we have referred so often, sat
Wellington, wearied with long watching and counter manoeuvring,
dismounted now, his spyglass in his pocket, and himself seated at a
midday meal, which he needed as much perhaps as any of his soldiers.
For the moment he could do no more. He was merely watching and
waiting. Thus he and his staff snatched a hasty meal, wondering what
the result of the day was to be for them. Then came electrifying
news--Marmont was extending his left. He was pushing his divisions
up into the Arapiles, leaving his centre denuded, while right and
left wings of his army were steadily getting farther and farther
from one another. It was the moment for which Wellington had been
waiting; it was the moment of all others in which to strike. That
critical stage in the coming contest had arrived where one leader,
in this case Marmont, attempts too great a task; while his opponent,
watching him like a cat, sees the error, realizes the opportunity,
and sends his men headlong to make the most of it. There, in fact,
as Wellington looked through his spyglass, were the divisions forming
the French left separated from their centre; while, in addition to
this attempted enveloping movement, Marmont was still manoeuvring
his right, so as to close the road to Ciudad Rodrigo. Here, in fact,
if we look closely into the circumstances, was an example of divided
force, that for which Wellington was ever seeking. His acuteness,
and the strenuous fighting of his men, had separated Marmont from
other French armies. Now Marmont's own dispositions had separated his
left wing from its centre and right, and at this precise moment the
opportunity had come to beat his army in detail.

Pakenham's 3rd Division was seated about our general. He had been
lunching with its officers, Pakenham being his own brother-in-law.
Instantly he gave this gallant leader orders, and at once the men of
the 3rd Division were on their feet. Forward they charged against the
left wing on the slope of the Sister Arapiles. Batteries thundered
against them; muskets sent a stinging hail of bullets against the
face of the charging division; while cavalry emerged from a fold in
the ground and charged madly for the advancing British. But none
could stay that gallant division. The men swept cavalry aside. They
laughed at bullets and cannon shot. Leaving a thick trail of killed
and wounded, they pressed the charge home, came to handgrips with the
enemy, and then attacked them with the bayonet.

"Let them loose!" cried Pakenham; and at the command the Connaught
Rangers, ever a fine fighting corps, was sent into the midst of the
thick masses of Marmont's left wing.

"Magnificent but dreadful!" cried Tom, a witness from the plain
of the whole scene. "Look; our fellows are crumpling the enemy's
left wing up! Our colours are right alongside theirs, with the men
fighting all round. It's a grand movement!"

"The Portuguese brigade will fall in!"

The command rang out over that portion of the ground where Tom and
his men were stationed, and at once the men were on their feet.

"Dress up there on the right. Back in the centre. Nicely does it,
men! Ready and correct, sir."

Jack Barwood, a grin of excitement on his face, rode up to Tom and
reported the composite regiment to be ready.

"March!"

The brigade was in motion. Extending by battalions to left and right,
its face was soon far wider than it had been. Pack led them direct to
that Arapile height still held by Marmont, and known as Hermanito.
Guns blazed and thundered at the Portuguese. Shot plunged through the
ranks, sweeping men by half-dozens out of existence. Musket bullets
began to sizzle and whip about the ears of the brigade, and fell even
amongst the reserve marching some four hundred yards in rear. Tom's
men began to fall by the way. Was there a sign of flinching?

"Good plucked 'uns, to the backbone," muttered Jack, at Tom's side
now, his face eager and tense. "Our boys will do well, sir. What are
the orders?"

An aide-de-camp had just galloped round, and had shouted instructions
to our hero.

"We're to charge up behind the men and support any part where the
enemy are pressing," he said shortly. "I'm going to move off to the
side a little; as we are we get all the shots and balls which miss
the brigade in advance, and that isn't business. To the left there
are folds in the ground which will give us shelter. Look away up
there at Pakenham's 3rd Division."

The struggle was still progressing there, though the enemy's guns had
ceased to thunder. Our scarlet-clad men could be seen mustering here
and there, and, though Tom could not himself know what was happening,
that mustering told its own tale. For Marmont's left wing, so
recklessly moved away from the support of its centre and right, was
conquered. Three thousand of the enemy were already prisoners, with
two much-coveted eagles and eleven cannon. The rest were scattered,
some still contesting the ground, while the remainder had taken to
their heels. Indeed, all eyes were now on Pack's brigade.

"Charge! Up the hill and at them!"

The command rang out in Portuguese, and at once the irregulars
stormed the height, their muskets at the trail, their bayonets
already fixed. Ah, they were close to the summit! Breathless with
the climb, but eager for the conflict, they cheered as they gained
the height. Then there came the roar and crackle of musketry. Twelve
hundred French infantry emptied their muskets into the charging
host and came at them with fixed bayonets--fresh men against men
blown after a stiff climb. There was the crash and clank of crossing
weapons, and, later, cries of terror. Dismayed by the enemy's charge,
straggling as is the case with infantry after a stiff climb, the
Portuguese in engagement with Marmont's men turned tail and fled down
the hill, exposing the 4th Division on its flank to the attack of the
enemy. Instantly French regiments poured up, guns crashed out, while
a hail of musketry was sent against that division by the ranks of the
French.

"Double!" commanded Tom, emerging with his men a few moments earlier
from a convenient and merciful fold in the ground, and realizing
instantly what had happened. "Double up there and cover the flank of
the 4th Division. Now, halt!"

It took ten minutes perhaps to get into position, and all the while
the enemy were advancing at a run to take the 4th Division in flank.
But Tom's men were there before them, and, at his shrill whistles, at
once broke up into squares of double companies, one Portuguese and
one Spanish being now associated together in all manoeuvres.

"Wait for the word to fire!" bellowed Tom, while Jack, and Alfonso,
and Andrews, and Howeley repeated the order in stentorian tones.
"Fire by squares! Be ready to charge!"

Pandemonium reigned about them. A mass of cavalry swung of a sudden
round the shoulder of the hill, and, skirting the French battalions,
launched itself against Tom's devoted squares. Crash! Bang! A blaze
of flame swept in their faces. Horses reared and fell with their
riders. A thousand desperate troopers galloped at the squares,
slashing and cutting. Crash! Bang! The muskets flashed redly; the
bullets tore through the scattered ranks of the cavalry.

"Load! Stand ready there. Ah! Reserves are coming up. That must be
the 5th Division. Men of the composite regiment, stand firm and you
will have saved the position here. Ready? Then forward."

The three squares advanced steadily against the advancing French.
Men fell here and there, but their places were instantly filled. The
faces of the squares, presenting in this case but a narrowed angle
to the enemy, swirled with fire and flame. Smoke hid the men from
all observers, while a thunderous discharge came from their weapons.
Then there followed the clink of ramrods. Bullets were driven home
on powder and wads, primings were renewed, while flints were drawn
back. Then again was repeated the same thunder of muskets, the same
red flaming flash, the same vomiting of sulphurous vapour. A minute
later the 5th Division came panting up, and at once the enemy were
pressed back. Steadily the advance was maintained, and presently the
enemy were fleeing.

"Form line!" bellowed Tom, standing in his stirrups and waving his
sword, all oblivious of the fact that a musket bullet had shattered
the blade, leaving him with but six inches of steel clinging to the
hilt. "Line up with the 4th Division. Forward!"

"Forward!" shrieked Jack in his terrible Portuguese.

"Now's the time, me boys!" shouted Andrews, ever encouraging the men.

On went the scarlet lines of British, with the thin blue line of
Tom's irregulars wedged in between. Wellington himself came cantering
up, for now had come the very crisis of the battle. The 6th Division
doubled to the front with cheers of eagerness, while, away on the
left of our line, troops until then hardly under fire went to the
front.

Slowly at first, and then more swiftly, the enemy's regiments
were crumpled up. Marmont had by now been severely wounded, while
successive generals had been placed _hors de combat_. Muddled by
counter orders, therefore, and no doubt scared by the dash of our
battalions, the enemy retired all along the line, and was soon in
retreat, protected by strong rearguards and followed persistently
over miles of country by our men.

It would be impossible to detail every single combat which followed.
Gallant regiments on the side of the French stood fast, holding their
ground while their comrades retired to safety. But as night fell all
were in retirement, and here again were the plans of Lord Wellington
upset by the very people who should have done their utmost to support
him. For Marmont's army of the north was beaten. Capture of the
survivors of this day's memorable fight would mean a French disaster,
and to bring that about Wellington had long ago sent his Spanish
irregulars to guard the fords across the River Tormes. Can we wonder
that that at Alba was deserted by the cowardly Spanish as the French
came near? And thereby a decisive defeat was lessened. By the next
day, in fact, the French were across the river.

But Salamanca was won. The northern frontier of Portugal was freed of
the enemy, and now, when we advanced into Spain still farther, we had
this to content us--there were none of the enemy in rear to cut our
communications or to stampede our rearguards. They were to our front,
and no Britisher fears an enemy whom he can see plainly.

But there were still rascals and traitors to be dealt with, as
Tom was yet to learn. Not that he gave a thought to them. For on
the evening of the battle, receiving an order from a galloping
aide-de-camp, he halted his men and set them down for a breather.
Then the sound of clattering hoofs came to his ears, and there rode
out of the gathering gloom Lord Wellington himself, with a brilliant
staff about him. He drew rein within ten feet of the corps, now
dishevelled and lessened sadly in numbers, but erect as ever, and
dressed with that precision for which they had become notorious.

"What corps?" asked Wellington, though he needed no information.

"Lieutenant Clifford's, sir. Composite corps; half-Portuguese and
half-Spanish."

Tom's heart thudded as the general set his horse three paces forward.

"Ah," he heard him say, "I felt sure it was they! Mr. Clifford."

"Sir," answered Tom, lowering the hilt of his broken sword.

"Mr. Barwood and the other officers, commissioned and
non-commissioned," cried the general softly, causing all those
individuals to come to the front.

"Gentlemen," said Wellington, his tones not raised in the slightest,
as if he were discussing a matter of little interest, and yet
conveying by a subtle inflection of his voice that it was no ordinary
matter, "from the plain below we saw Pack's Portuguese turn tail and
bolt. We saw the 4th Division heavily assailed. And then this corps
was thrust into the gap. It was a brilliantly-conceived movement, and
it helped to save a situation which was critical. The forming of the
corps into squares was beyond all criticism. Mr. Clifford, you will
be good enough to give my personal commendations to your men, whose
bravery is a pattern for all their fellows. Inform them that I hold
them in great respect, and that since the respect of a commander
is shown through his officers, who have done so well again, those
officers' names will be sent to England in my dispatches. March your
men back to their camp, please."

Did the men of Tom's corps cheer? They shouted themselves hoarse
after our hero had spoken to them. They trudged across the field
strewn with killed and wounded with merry songs, and turned into
their blankets when all was over as proud as any in Spain or Portugal.

As for Tom, he was too fatigued to even think. Once his wounded were
collected and his dead buried, a gruesome job for any commander, he
dropped dead asleep in his blanket. He recked not of the work before
him. His slumbering mind cared not a jot for the dangers of the task
which his commander had given him. If there had been fifty spies to
capture, if there had been fifty mysteries hanging about the persons
of the rascal José and Tom's two relatives abducted from Oporto,
that young fellow would still have slept. For he had fought his
first big engagement. He had done strenuous work, and nature called
aloud for repose for both body and brain before he took up other
responsibilities. Till the morrow, then, we leave him till the rising
sun awaked in his thoughts the memory of those urgent orders.



CHAPTER XVII

A Clue at Last


Those 40,000 victorious men of Wellington's great army now had their
backs to the Portuguese frontier and were marching gaily on Madrid.
Away in front a half-battalion of infantry watched for the French
and found no trace of them. The guard in rear had an easy time of
it, for attack was not to be feared from that quarter; while the
cavalry patrols on either flank reported a country clear of all but
peasants. As for the road itself, it was littered with carts of
every description, not the motor lorries which to-day have achieved
a triumph, making light of the task of hauling the stores and
impedimenta of an army, but with mule carts in endless array, and
four-wheeled and two-wheeled vehicles with their teams of mules and
their gaudily-hatted drivers.

"Of all the aggravating, lazy beggars these are the worst I ever set
eyes on," growled Jack Barwood, in command now of Tom's composite
corps of Portuguese and Spanish; for that young fellow himself,
together with Alfonso his cousin, had departed on special service.
And didn't the great Jack give himself airs! Riding at the head
of the corps he looked about him as does a conqueror. And these
muleteers came in for his displeasure.

"Straggling all over the road as usual. How's one to pass here?" he
demanded of Andrews, who was marching beside him, and pointing to a
batch of vehicles wedged in a rocky part of the road where a detour
was almost impossible.

"Move 'em, sir," came the answer, while the rifleman suppressed
a grin of amusement. Jack was a favourite with them all, but he
sometimes excited their ridicule. He was different from the steady
and yet dashing Tom.

"Move 'em, sir, or interview one of these blackguards conducting
the caravan. Look at the beggar nearest; stares at us as if we
hadn't a right on the road, when we all know we're here to fight the
Spaniards' own battles. Precious fine help they give us too! The only
time they're out of the way is when fightin's wanted. Hi, you, you
son of a gun, move along with you!"

The individual in question, a beetle-browed young fellow, whose
head was closely swathed in a brilliantly-red handkerchief, and who
dangled his sombrero from one hand, squatted on the shaft of the
nearest waiting cart, puffing a cigarette and staring with insolent
eyes at the commander of the irregulars.

"Cheek!" exclaimed Jack. "The beggar looks at us as if we were
trespassers. Haul him up, Andrews; we'll give him trespassers."

Jack sought in the back of his mind for all the Spanish he knew and
burst into an ungrammatical tirade when the muleteer was brought
forward by Andrews.

"Hi, you!" said Jack haughtily; "hook it, double quick! You're
keeping the duke's own corps of irregulars. Sheer out with your
bothering carts or it'll be the worse for you."

That was the substance of his speech, a speech that brought a
supercilious grin from the young man.

"_Si, señor_," he said, "but there is time; there is always time."

Jack gripped his meaning with difficulty, and then bubbled over with
wrath. Had he commanded cavalry he would have been tempted to ride
over the insolent fellow and his obstruction. As it was, he felt he
could thrash the man with his whip. But such action was out of the
question. Jack fumed and raged, while Andrews grinned secretly. As
for the Spaniard, he returned to his cart, finished his cigarette,
and then gave the order for the group of vehicles to move forward.
But as soon as the corps of irregulars had passed he sent a messenger
to call its commander.

"Well?" demanded Jack haughtily, riding back, and meeting the man
alone and well away from all others. "What fool's errand have you
called me for?"

"Gently does it, Jack. Gently! I'll be frightened," laughed the
muleteer, in the purest English. "How are things going?"

The young leader of the composite corps nearly dropped from his
horse, and then, bending low, stared at this stranger.

"I'm blistered!" he growled. "Am I standing on my head, or----"

"Don't get frightened," came the grinning answer. "It's Tom, right
enough. I'm glad we've met, for it proves my disguise to be good.
Not one of the men recognized me, and I gave 'em every chance; even
Andrews was hoodwinked. How'll I do?"

[Illustration: A CLEVER DISGUISE]

Jack could still have been levelled flat with the proverbial feather,
for his chum had been absent from the camp exactly a week, and
Alfonso with him. It had been given out that they had ridden for
Oporto, and they had, in fact, taken the road for that place. But
some miles from the camp both had stripped off their uniforms and had
donned the dress worn by muleteers, of whom thousands were employed
with both British and French armies. Then they had been joined by
a faithful servant of Alfonso, one who accompanied him on this
campaign, who handed over to the two lads half a dozen native carts,
together with their teams of mules.

"He'll stable our horses away on Father's estate," explained Alfonso.
"We can stow our uniforms in two of the carts, and then, if we want
to change back to ourselves at any time, we have the things near us.
Now?"

"Back to the camp," said Tom, "There we pick up four of our
fellows who were on the sick list till last week. They've been
reported as fit only for light duty, and so, at my suggestion, are
to be allowed to continue with the army as drivers. They're trusty
fellows, and may be relied on not to give us away to friends or
enemies. Back we go, Alfonso."

As bold as brass--for the handkerchief swathed round the brows and
the wide sombrero hat were disfiguring and an excellent disguise--the
two drove their teams into camp, and bivouacked close to Tom's own
regiment. And here they were, on the road, obstructing that same
corps, and causing the irate and lofty Jack to bubble over.

"Of all the blessed cheek!" he began to gasp, faintly recognizing
Tom. "You gave me an awful start. To think of you being alongside
us, giving me lip too. That beats everything. But----what's up?" he
demanded in a hoarse whisper, leaning over from his saddle. "What's
this disguise for? And why march with the British army?"

Tom waved him away. "Look out," he said hurriedly. "Those muleteers
are looking this way. Pretend to row me; threaten me with your whip.
I'll sneak away in the usual Spanish manner."

Cunning eyes were, indeed, fixed upon them at that moment. A man
amongst a batch of drivers passing with his team just then recognized
Jack as the leader of irregulars, one with whom, had that young
officer been able to guess it, he had already had dealings. But the
scene immediately following disarmed all suspicion. Jack raged at
the man standing near him. His whip went up over his shoulder, and
he slashed out fiercely, cleverly missing his friend. As for Tom,
he scowled and muttered loudly, while his hand went to an imaginary
stiletto.

"Draw your sword and skewer him if he shows fight," shouted a cavalry
officer, also a witness of the scene, galloping up now. "Get back to
your cart!" he commanded.

Tom slank away, while Jack explained the insolence of the man,
getting advice born of long experience.

"They're the biggest set of thieving, murdering rascals I ever set
eyes on," declared the officer, "and would knife one as soon as eat
a dinner. I never allow 'em to answer. I'm fair and square and kind
when things are right, but if there's disobedience, or treachery, or
insolence in the air, I go for 'em red-headed, red-headed me boy,
and knock the courage clean out of the rascals. I know; I've been on
transport duty in this country in the early days of the campaign,
and I've learned that firmness, and violence too, sometimes, are
necessary."

There was a grin of amusement on Tom's face as he returned to the
carts, while the seemingly sleepy eyes of his fellow muleteers
twinkled. Whether our hero and his cousin had embarked upon a
fool's chase or not it was impossible to say; but this was certain,
occupying a false position as they did, where the piercing of their
disguise by comrade or enemy would be equally disastrous to their
scheme, they still had everything in their favour. Those men were
oysters; not one knew anything. They had taken service with the
chief muleteer, he with the bright handkerchief about his head, and
that was all. His name? No--that they had not heard. His age? They
shrugged their shoulders. What did age matter in a country where time
was of no consequence? Then he loved the English? Another shrug.
Perhaps; who could say? He had had a fierce altercation with one of
their officers that very day.

"A lucky meeting it was, too," declared Tom to his cousin, when they
were tucked in their cart that night, secure from eavesdroppers.
"Every muleteer with our troops will hear the yarn before to-morrow's
finished, and that's just what we want."

"Want?" ejaculated Alfonso, with a lift of the eyebrows.

"Yes, want."

"But--why?"

"Because we've thrashed this matter out, haven't we?"

Alfonso assented, shrugging in his blankets because the habit was too
strong for him. "But," he said.

"I'll explain. There are spies about, stealing Wellington's papers
and plans."

"Exactly."

"And strangers with the troops are few and far between, and get
spotted precious quickly."

"Granted--then?"

"Then the spies are not strangers. They are to be found amongst men
accustomed to be with the troops, non-combatants of course; for
soldiers don't go in for such dirty business. So one looked round."

"And pitched on the only possible people--muleteers, the scum of
the earth," declared Alfonso, with another shrug, which Tom found
strangely disconcerting. Who ever heard of a fellow who must needs
shrug his shoulders in bed and in the darkness?

"Drop that shrugging," he growled. "Upsets me. Well, there we are. We
pitched on muleteers. To watch 'em properly we decided to join them
ourselves."

"And here we are--not that I grumble," said Alfonso, beginning
another shrug and arresting it as Tom kicked savagely. "But rations
might be more plentiful. Still, as you say, here we are; and here we
stay, I suppose."

"Till things turn up. I'm going to let it get about that we're
discontented beggars. If there's a gang about, we may be invited to
join. Who knows, through such a gang we might get hold of that fellow
who captured your father and mine?"

"José, eh?" asked his cousin.

"Perhaps."

"In any case the rascal we were after in Oporto, whose spy we
captured going to Ciudad Rodrigo. That's the puzzle. We agree that it
was he who abducted our parents. But is he also José, and if so, or
the reverse, is he associated with the ruffians who have been robbing
the dispatch box of his lordship, the leader of this army?"

There the puzzle was laid out in all its bareness and meagreness.
There were links missing in the chain of flimsy evidence; but this
was certain, both lads had lost a father while José was in the
country.

"Heigho! We'll leave the matter and get to roost," sighed Tom, for
driving a team of fractious mules is no light task. "Things are going
well, that's all. Something'll turn up presently."

He was a cheery, optimistic young fellow, and soon dropped asleep;
for worry was of no use to our hero. The following day found him just
as cheerfully helping the British army in his new and humbler way to
advance to conquest. For Madrid was the goal; those three victories
had, in fact, opened up the heart of Andalusia. Ciudad Rodrigo and
its capture against strenuous difficulties had shown the French that
we were out for business, and the fall of Badajoz had set a laurel
about the brows of the British regiments. None doubted now that even
when skill did not count, bull-dog courage was one of their cherished
possessions. Moreover, Salamanca had cast a shade over the French
invaders of the Peninsula. Almarez, and the destruction of those
forts, the bridge, and the vast stores of the enemy were but an
incident, if one of utmost importance, in this third victory; that
week of crafty manoeuvring near the road to Ciudad Rodrigo, with its
attendant little actions and skirmishes, but a forecast of what was
to follow. It was the stand-up fight in the open, when British troops
had been exposed to veterans of France, led by noted strategists,
when our brave fellows had smashed the power of Marmont--and by
manoeuvres vieing his in skill--that helped to send the enemy
rightabout, their faces set in the direction of France itself. The
great king of Spain fled his capital. This Joseph, brother of the
Great Napoleon, the "Little Corporal," so fond of placing members
of his own family on the thrones of Europe, had departed in haste
from Madrid, while Soult marched to join hands with Suchet. There
was evidence that the enemy were less assured than formerly. There
was a decided inclination for forces to co-operate; for the lesson
Salamanca had taught was salutary. The British troops were worthy of
a greater respect than had hitherto been accorded.

And so for a while we may leave Wellington and his army, satisfied
that the conduct of affairs would be always careful. Our interest
turns naturally to Tom, sleeping then beside his cousin.

For three days they continued to march with the troops, and each
succeeding one found them better acquainted with their fellow
muleteers, and already earning the reputation of being discontented
fellows.

"Then you find fault with the work?" asked a bulky, stiff-necked
Spaniard, with pock-marked face, who had once before accosted Tom.
He it was, in fact, who had so cunningly watched the altercation
between our hero and Jack Barwood.

"The work? That is good enough as work goes, friend," Tom answered
sulkily; "but had I my way I would be back there at home lolling away
my time. Who wants to work, and for these British? And then, think of
the pittance we earn."

Tom was romancing with a vengeance, for if anyone liked work it was
he. To be idle with him, as with the majority of decent fellows, was
to be supremely miserable. As for the pay, a British army has the
reputation of being liberal, and Wellington's was no exception.

"Ah!" exclaimed the bull-necked fellow, leering cunningly at Tom, and
expectorating to a distance. "The British! I hate them as I hate the
French. But as for pay, there are ways of getting rich even when one
is only a muleteer."

Tom pricked up his ears instantly. He had taken note of this
thick-necked, stumpy fellow before, he with the pock-mark face, a
face which even if it had not been marred by disease would still have
been the reverse of attractive.

"Getting rich? How?" he asked.

"Ah! That's telling. But there are ways, easy ways, ways unknown to
the others."

"And there is good money in it, my friend?"

"Doubloons in plenty, I tell you," came the slow answer, while the
man looked about him craftily.

"Come to my wagon," said Tom, at once, anxious to allay any
suspicions, and prepared to lead the man on. For here might be
something in the nature of a clue. "I have a friend there who also
would make money, if it is to be made readily. There is danger?"

"Poof! Who thinks of danger when there is gold?" exclaimed the
man loftily, though the flicker about his eyes belied his vaunted
courage. "I will come gladly. You have a bottle of wine, perhaps.
That would be interesting."

Tom had a bottle of excellent stuff, as a matter of fact, and had
obtained it with a view to a possible meeting of this sort. And,
after all, the offer of a good glass of wine on a campaign such as
that of the Peninsula was often more binding than a greater service.
It followed that, within ten minutes, the three, this muleteer, Tom,
and his cousin, were as bosom comrades, while before the fellow left
he had made a cunning appointment.

"Listen," he said, staring about him. "To-morrow we come to the city
of Madrid. There I have friends, and you will meet them. I will give
you the time and place of meeting. There you shall learn how money
can be earned, and with such a spice of adventure about it that you
will be charmed. Look for me to-morrow, then."

"On the track at last," murmured Alfonso breathlessly when the man
was gone. "You think he is one of the gang, Tom?"

"Certain. Can't say, of course, that he has had anything to do with
Wellington's papers; but I guess that's the case. However, we shall
soon know that. Still, this is equally certain: whatever this work
may be, and spying has something to do with it, it's the merest
toss-up that it can have any connection with our governors. Oporto's
a long cry from Madrid; Badajoz ain't much nearer."

Late on the following evening the troops reached the outskirts of
Madrid, where Tom and his cousin parked their carts and secured their
mules in the mule lines.

"You will look after things while we are gone," said Tom, addressing
one of the men with them. "We have information which takes us into
the city to-night perhaps. That information might possibly keep us
absent from the camp for some days, so do not be alarmed if we do not
return. Carry on as if we were still present."

An hour later the rascally-looking muleteer put in an appearance, and
promptly cast his eyes upon the bottle of wine nestling in a corner
of Tom's cart.

"A fine evening, one on which you will pave the way to a fortune," he
leered. "But hot, infamously hot; these August days are always sultry
in this country."

Tom poured him out a glass, and watched with feelings of loathing as
the fellow gulped down the fluid. He was a scoundrel, of that he was
sure, a thick-headed scoundrel to be so easily duped. For here he was
about to introduce two comrades, of whom he had but little knowledge,
to a group of conspirators perhaps, and in any case to someone able
and willing to pay for work not as a rule performed by muleteers.
What was that work?

"Spying--dirty work anyway," our hero growled to himself, for the
thing was as foreign to his open-air, straightforward character as it
could be. "But for the time being, at least, I'm prepared to be as
great a spy and conspirator as any."

"You are free to come?" leered the fellow, looking askance again at
the bottle. Tom took the hint and refilled the glass.

"Yes," he said coarsely, handing the wine over.

"To the city?"

"Anywhere where gold is promised."

"And the danger?"

"Pooh! Are we not under fire often?"

"Then come."

"But where? The city is a big place."

"It is; but there are cribs where a man may hide. There we shall find
our chief. Young like you, yes, young; but cunning, clever as they
make them; keen, yes, sharp as any needle. Where? Ah, that wants
telling! You wish for fortune. Then wait for it till the time comes.
I am here as a benefactor."

Was he foxing? Was this crafty fellow luring them on? No--a thousand
times no. The whole transaction had been so spontaneous.

Tom looked across at Alfonso and found no warning glance in his eyes.
His Spanish cousin was as eager as he; he had no fears of a plot
against them.

"Ready then," said Tom, as he felt the dagger beneath his waistcoat
and the pistol thrust into the leg of his boot, for he was seated on
the shaft of the cart. "We put ourselves in your hands."

"Then come."

Watched by the eyes of the other men who had accompanied them, Tom
and his cousin went off with their companion and were soon within
the city, for the place had opened on the arrival of the British.
Plunging into a side street, they wended their way towards the
lower quarters of the city and were soon threading narrow alleys
with noisome slums on either hand. Then their guide turned into a
doorway and tapped three times sharply. Once more he gave his signal.
Scurrying feet were heard. Stairs groaned and squeaked beneath a
descending weight. The door was dragged open on rusty hinges.

"Enter--how many?"

"Three."

"Then enter."

Led by the one who had opened the door, and next by the rascally
muleteer with whom they had scraped an acquaintance, Tom and his
cousin entered the narrow, dark passage. They climbed the same
groaning, squeaking flight of stairs, and then plunged into a room
but dimly lighted. Ten men were present, a full ten, seated about a
rickety table.

Who were they? Conspirators? Yes, without doubt. Was José there?
Impossible to say. Then any other they could recognize? No--yes.

Tom's eyes pierced the flimsy disguise of one of the men present. It
was the selfsame rascal captured outside Ciudad Rodrigo, whom he had
impersonated, a spy then, and one now, one, moreover, whose sharp
eyes might easily penetrate his own disguise and bring a hornet's
nest about him.

"But it's duty," he murmured softly to himself, as he took a seat.
"Wellington's orders must be obeyed. I'm here to unravel a plot and
make an end of a set of ruffians who are a nuisance and a danger to
my countrymen."

Yes, it was duty. But the risk! Tom and his cousin had still to
fathom its depth, had still to face the consequences of this rash
visit.



CHAPTER XVIII

The Conspirators' Den


Imagine a low-ceilinged room, the whitening long since gone a
dull smoke colour, cobwebs in the corner, dust on every angle and
ridge, and a floor innocent of scrubbing-brush for many a long day.
Imagine an atmosphere charged with pungent smoke from the pipes and
cigarettes of ten conspirators, smoke generated by tobacco of the
coarsest and foulest. Add to that the nauseating fumes of an oil
lamp, trimmed perhaps a month before, flickering, red, and smoky.
Then picture the forms and faces of those ten conspirators gathered
about a huge, rickety table, forms of small proportion for the
most part, slim and lithe as becomes the young man of Spain, but
alternated in the case of two at least by the grossest stoutness.
Double chins were owned by that more aged couple. Their faces were
masked by bushy eyebrow, and fierce moustaches, that curled upwards,
while their chins were clad and obscured by black beards of a week's
growth. For the rest, they were mostly clean-shaven, hawk-eyed, keen,
blinking at the newcomers through the smoke which filled the chamber.

"Welcome!" A solitary voice broke the silence when at length Tom and
his companions were seated. But whence it came, from whom, he had
no notion. The tones were deep, almost guttural. They might have
emanated from the floor or from the smoke-blacked ceiling.

"Welcome! You come in time to do good work. Declare your names, your
age, and your parentage. Let one of you stand out before us and
speak."

The time had come to brave the whole matter, to risk discovery. Tom
rose to his feet from the rickety chair to which he had been invited
and stood before the company. He stared across the table, through the
gloom, and sought the one who had spoken. But not one of the ten had
moved. Not one seemed to have opened his lips. Ah! in the background,
sheltered in the angle of the room, was yet another figure. The face
leered out at him, one writhing hand concealing the features. Did Tom
recognize this fellow even then?

"No," he told himself. "The cunning beggar keeps a hand across his
face. But--but I'll swear the voice is familiar, though masked now.
Present!" he cried boldly. "We have come for information. We are
ready to do good work and to earn a reward better than that paid to
humble muleteers."

The figure moved from the angled recess in which it had been hiding.
The man or youth--Tom could not guess which--writhed his way across
the unwashed floor and halted at the table. One thin, shivering hand
was stretched forward as if to gather warmth from the lamp, which was
suddenly dashed to one side and the room plunged into darkness. At
that instant vice-like fingers seized our hero by the neck, his legs
were cut away from beneath him, while someone, evidently prepared
for the occasion, tossed a coil of rope about him and drew it tight.
There was the sound of a desperate struggle near at hand. Once Tom
was violently kicked, evidently by accident. And then there was
stillness; the lamp was set flaring again; the same masked, guttural
voice once more was heard.

"Take them away; deal with them according to instructions. See that
they are securely bound; let them understand that the end is near.
Go."

Tom could still see, though his arms were trussed to his side, while
he was otherwise helpless. He fixed his eyes upon that central figure
and tried to pierce the disguise, for disguised this leader of the
conspirators was. But was it José? He scoffed at the idea. José
ringleader of such a group! He had not the pluck for such a venture.
Then who? He knew the voice, masked though it was. It had been
familiar at some occasion. Where, then? When?

"Go; take them away. To-morrow deal with them as you have been
ordered."

Men lit their cigarettes again. The band gathered once more about
the table. There was an air of triumph about them all, something
which seemed to say that they had brought about a _coup_ and had
been wonderfully clever; as, indeed, they had been. Tom in his young,
ambitious heart had fondly imagined that all had been taken in by
the disguise which he had affected. But the rascals of whom Lord
Wellington had to complain were no ordinary individuals, though, as
a rule, they were dressed as muleteers and followed that vocation.
There was a clever, subtle brain behind them, and that brain had
contrived to discover the plan so carefully formulated by Tom and his
cousin. The rascally, leering driver of mules who had brought them to
this rendezvous was but a decoy, fooled just as cleverly as they had
been. Their coming was expected. Preparations for their capture were
completed even before they left the safety of their camp. And now,
what was before them?

"Murder, I suppose," thought Tom, repressing a shiver. "That's the
sort of thing these fellows go in for. What's the move now? They're
bundling us out of the room, but where to is more than I can guess.
Keep your pecker up, Alfonso," he called, when the door was shut on
them, and they stood in a passage. "It'll all come out right in the
end."

"Silence! Pass in here," commanded one of the two ruffians who
escorted them. "Not both, but you."

A door was wrenched open, and Tom was flung in, receiving a savage
kick from the second of their escort. The door banged, the lock
creaked and grated before he picked himself up from the floor. Then
there was more tramping, the wrenching open of a second door, and
another crash and bang. The heavy steps of two men came and passed
his door. The room beyond, which they had so lately left, was opened.
There came to his ears the buzz of many voices. Even the pungent reek
of tobacco and lamp smoke smote upon his nostrils, and then there was
comparative silence, save for a dull murmur.

"Muzzled! Fooled! Caught finely! In chokey!" groaned Tom, full of
bitterness. "And just when we thought things were going so nicely.
But let's look round. I'm tied fast by the elbows and thumbs; I can't
move my arms, while my legs are free. So much then to the good; it
might have been worse."

That was Tom all over--an optimist from the very depths of him.
Always ready to look on the bright side of things. A grouser? Never!
Life held too many rosy spots for our hero, as it does for all who
care to look just an inch below the surface for them. Things could
not always run smoothly, that he knew. They never do for anyone.
Even kings have their trials and troubles, and why not humble
individuals like our hero? It is the man who looks upon the bright
side of matters who lives long and enjoys happiness. Unconsciously,
perhaps--perhaps also because he was the son of his father, the
jovial, stout, and rollicking Septimus, himself an optimist--Tom,
too, looked ever upon the rosy side. He was in trouble; why then make
the very worst of that fact? Why not try to improve matters? And,
being the practical fellow he was, Tom began to look about him. The
gloom gave way after a while. Light from a street lamp, or perhaps
it came from a house opposite, flickered into the room, and now that
his eyes were accustomed to it he could see his surroundings. There
was a window, yes. It was twenty feet from the ground. An easy jump
if his limbs were free, a dangerous attempt with his arms fettered.
There was a dirty floor and a smoke-blacked ceiling. Not a stick of
furniture was present. Yes there was, if blinds are furniture; for
there was a blind to the window. It was let down to its full length,
and there was the cord. It passed beneath a catch, and----

"My uncle!" gasped Tom, following Jack's pet expression. "There's a
serrated surface there, a regular saw, if only I could approach the
edge. How's that? Bad. Try again. How's that? Worse. Never say die
then. What's the report on this occasion?"

It was good, or fair, or middling, as he changed his position ever
so little. Sometimes the edges of the toothed band controlling the
length or position of the pulley over which the blind cord ran
gripped the strands of rope about his thumbs. Sometimes the latter
slid over them as if they were not in existence. Then they gripped
again, feebly perhaps, then with a vim there was no denying. Tom
grew hot with the effort. Perspiration poured from his forehead. He
pressed with even greater fierceness against the toothed edge he had
found.

"Through! Thumbs free," he was able to assure himself after a while.
"Those chaps are still at it, gassing and smoking. Now for my elbows.
That's a different matter altogether. It's mighty hard to get them
down into position, and one isn't sure when they're rubbing."

But it could be done. If he had been successful so far, surely this
additional difficulty was not going to discourage him. Tom clenched
his teeth and stooped, managing by a gymnastic evolution to bring his
fettered elbows against the serrated edge of the blind-cord catch.
But the task was irritatingly slow and laborious. He rubbed with all
his might, and still the cord held his arms pinioned closely together
behind him. However, perseverance was a virtue of which he had quite
his fair share, and Tom hated being beaten. Yes, whether in a matter
of life and death, as this was, or in the ordinary affairs of life,
Tom was a demon for work--a stickler, a fellow who liked to see a
thing through and watch it to success. A strand of the cord gave with
a little pop. Beads of perspiration burst from pores in his forehead
until then untapped, and, welling up, joined the stream already
flowing towards the corners of his eyes. Then there came a sound of
loud and exultant laughter from the smoke-grimed room occupied by the
conspirators. The door burst open, while heavy feet resounded in the
passage outside.

"Free! Pulled the cords open. If they try any games with me I'm
ready."

He gathered up the fallen strands like lightning, threw himself into
the darkest corner, with his arms held behind his back as if they
were still pinioned, while in one hand he gripped his pistol, his
stiletto in the other. Nor was he any too soon. A key grated in the
lock; the bolt slid back with a rusty creaking. The door itself came
open with a bang, admitting half a dozen ruffians, who staggered in
one after the other.

One was fat and jowly and unwieldy of body. He brought a rickety
chair with him and a lamp, and having thumped the former down in
a central position proceeded to mop his reddened face. The others
leaned against the dirty walls, surveying their prisoner with
satisfied grimaces, while cigarettes protruded from their lips.

"_Señor Inglise_," began one--when the fat man interrupted him.

"_Señor_ indeed! Prisoner. Dog of an Englishman!"

"As you will," shrugged the other. "Dog of an Englishman! Here is a
test, and our fat friend will carry it out. You are on the staff of
Lord Wellington. You know all things; then tell your tale. There is
life and liberty for the telling."

"As there was for me outside the walls of Rodrigo," shouted another
of the rascals, whom Tom instantly recognized as the spy his men had
captured, and whom he had impersonated. "Life and liberty. I took
both. Here now is your chance. The tale, and then the open door."

[Illustration: THE FAT MAN THREATENS TOM]

"Or a grave," added the fat man, thrusting his handkerchief away and
slowly drawing a pistol. "Mark you, Englishman, we wish you no harm.
We ask for very little. What now are the plans of the English lord?"

Tom laughed at them. He rocked from side to side at their questions,
but as he did so he wondered whether he ought straightway to shoot
the rascal into whose pistol muzzle he looked. It would be so easy.
As for the others, pooh! he did not fear them. A blow here, a thrust
with his stiletto there, and he would be out of the room. But there
was Alfonso. No--the time had not yet come for shooting.

"_Señors_, you choose to joke," he said pleasantly. "What next?"

"For you, nothing after my bullet. For us, the easy task of
extracting information from your comrade."

"Ah! There they thought to succeed--never!" Tom told himself, for
Alfonso was a strict patriot. "Why ask for this information?" he
demanded. "Of what use is it to you?"

Quick as a flash he saw the importance of here and now discovering
whether or no this was a gang of conspirators or spies dealing in
official secrets, the pests who had already purloined maps and plans
from Lord Wellington's dispatch case, rascals, in fact, who traded
on the news they were able to sell to the enemy. He noticed glances
passing between the men present. The sunken orbits of the fat man
turned from one to another, his jowly cheeks flapping. And then he
swung round on Tom.

"You may as well know as not," he said, with an air of impertinent
assurance, "for if you speak, and tell this tale, you are one of us.
If you decline----"

He levelled his pistol with precision, squinted along the sights
till our hero, staring at the rogue, could see his fat cheek at the
far end bulging over the butt. And then a podgy finger went to the
trigger. It was a nasty feeling, that, distinctly nasty. Tom found
himself clinging very hard to his pistol butt. He barely withstood
the strong temptation to start to his feet and attack the odious
ruffian. Then a smile broke across his face, a smile that seemed to
reassure the fat man, while the others, villains undoubtedly, sighed
as they were relieved of a strain which even they felt.

"But of course you will speak, and therefore I may tell you who we
are," the man in the centre said, leaning forward so that the chair
squeaked, while he slowly lowered his weapon. "Know then, Englishman,
that we have business with all such matters. To the British we carry
plans made by the French. From the British we take similar plans, and
pass them to the enemy. Simple, is it not? Unpatriotic! Poof! We must
live, and such business is paying. I will tell you. From this Lord
Wellington our friend yonder took many documents but a month ago.
They now rest in the case of Monsieur the French commander, while we
live here in luxury. That is so, comrade?"

The rascal alluded to, none less than the very one whom Tom
impersonated at Ciudad Rodrigo, wagged his head knowingly and smiled
a smile of triumph.

"It is so; we have papers here to prove it."

"Then it's the gang, and a pretty set of scoundrels they are, to be
sure," thought Tom, turning the matter over swiftly. But he wanted to
know more, he wanted additional time in which to complete a plan then
forming in his head. "But----" he began.

"There is not such a thing as but in our business. We succeed always.
Here, supposing we fail with you, and I have the unpleasant task of
shooting you, we succeed without a doubt with your comrade. Ah, that
stirs you!" gurgled the fat ruffian, hugely enjoying his fancied
position of bully.

"That is understood," came Tom's answer, given with easy assurance,
though the poor fellow was feeling far from happy. "But I was about
to ask, seeing that I am invited to join you, surely you have a
leader? Then who is he?"

"The tale, and then you shall see; for of a surety we have a leader.
Now, friend Englishman, you have put your own head into this noose,
take therefore my advice and escape in the only way possible. Believe
me, the part of spy, conspirator, what you like to term it, is easy
enough."

"And supposing I know nothing?" It was, after all, only a reasonable
suggestion, for the officer in command of a British army, or any
other army for the matter of that, is not in the habit of spreading
his plans broadcast, nor is every staff officer of sufficient
importance to warrant such confidence. No; such matters are buried
secrets, discussed only amongst the highest, often enough known only
to those immediately helping the commander. To speak the truth, Tom
had his own ideas of the future movements of this Peninsula campaign;
but they were his ideas only, discussed with comrades over a camp
fire. They were very likely not Wellington's. Once before, too, he
had had ideas, ideas imagined for a purpose. He remembered of a
sudden how he had rewritten the spy's message to the commander at
Ciudad Rodrigo, giving supposed plans of his commanding officer which
were likely enough, no doubt, but happened to be merely the result of
guesswork. And why not buy freedom here for a while? Why not purchase
respite even for a few hours? Yes, even for only a few hours, for in
that space of time he could do much.

"I'll speak," he said abruptly, causing the fat man almost to
overbalance. "But the tale is a long one. A map will be necessary. I
must sketch the plans and write against them."

"Ah! Did I not say that he, a staff officer, must know all?" gurgled
the stout wretch. "Did I not prophesy that he would speak? While our
leader swore the opposite. Declared he would never open his mouth,
even with a pistol grinning at him. Poof! I knew I should succeed. I
have that reputation."

He mopped the perspiration from his face, rolled a cigarette, and
lit it with the help of a comrade. "But why not speak now?" he asked
suspiciously. "Now, while we are here to listen."

Tom paused a little before answering. It would not do, he guessed,
to be too emphatic. "Yes," he began, wrinkling his brows, "I could
try, of course. But the thing must be written and sketched some time
if it is to be any use to you, so that I should have to tell it all
over again. Why not let me do it all at the same time, and add the
sketches? Then you will have such complete information that you will
be able to command a high price for it."

"Bravo!" called one of the men. "He speaks the truth. Why not as he
suggests? We have him securely here. Then give him time. Cut him free
now, and leave him to it."

How strange to feel in his heart almost terror at that suggestion,
a suggestion which he would have welcomed but ten minutes before.
Tom went furiously hot from head to foot, and then felt like an
icicle. For to cut him free meant a discovery. That discovery of his
severed bonds would rouse suspicion, and even he could hardly hope to
persuade these folks to trust him again. "Wait," he called. "Leave me
as I am to think. Bring pens and ink and paper when you have them."

"And food in the first place. See you there," cried the fat man,
pointing to the fellow Tom had already met, "go for food. Then pass
outside the house and get the writing things. We will go back to a
meal; you can join us later.

"After the meal I have a friend to see outside. I will get these
things, and then join you as the night gets older."

There was a knowing smile on more than one of the ruffianly faces.
The fat man grinned and chortled. "A friend! Hola!" he cried. "And
one whose company is better and more entertaining than that of these
comrades. Well, well! We have all had friends. When the war is ended,
and we have done more business, you will marry the wench, and small
blame to you."

They went away at once, banging the door and leaving their prisoner.

The sigh which Tom sighed was of the number one order. It was
immense. It heaved his shoulders upward and his ribs outward till he
looked like a trussed pigeon. And the perspiration trickling from his
forehead showed under what tension he had laboured. For he had passed
through a terrible ordeal, one which might easily have overmastered
his courage. That grinning pistol was not the worst part of it all,
though it was bad enough. There were a hundred fears lurking in his
heart. Supposing, for instance, it came to the point where he drew
up this sketch, information and plans purely imaginary, conjured up
in a somewhat inventive brain, and those plans proved in the end
to be actually in a manner similar to those projected by the great
Wellington! Then his name would go down for ever and ever as a
traitor, as a coward, as a spy. The word was loathsome to him. Better
to be butchered than suffer such a chance.

Then the old optimistic spirit triumphed. "Chance! There wasn't such
a thing, for he hadn't yet set his hand to paper, and wouldn't if he
could help it. The job's got to be tackled right at once," he told
himself; "there's no time for delaying. But one thing's certain: this
is the very gang Lord Wellington wishes to discover. For haven't I
had proof positive? Then how to haul the whole lot by the heels? Ah,
that's a conundrum! Precious queer for a fellow to be sitting in a
hole like this, a prisoner, and to wonder how he's going to capture
the fellows who have bagged him! Queer, I do think!"

He actually smiled. Tom began to grin at the recollection of his good
fortune, for he had had undoubtedly the best of the recent interview.
He had, for the time being at any rate, hoodwinked a portion of the
gang, and, seeing that the noise in the adjacent room, deafening
after the entry of his late visitors, had now subsided into a
gentle murmur, why, if noise was any criterion of his fortunes, the
conspirators were easy in their minds.

Seated in his corner, Tom began to pass each one of the individuals
who composed the gang in review before him. Not that he could
remember in detail all those ruffianly countenances; but there were
some whose features had left an impression. The two fat men, for
instance, rascals if ever there were any; then half a dozen of the
others; and lastly, and to the exclusion of the remainder, the one he
had taken for leader, the shadowy individual, obviously disguised,
with the writhing hand across his mouth and the assumed voice.

"Could that be José? No. The fellow was too short. But--but, awfully
like him, that writhing hand. And the voice too?"

Tom scratched his head, a luxury denied him a little earlier. "Bother
the chap!" he cried. "Anyway, I hope it won't prove to be that
precious cousin. All the better for him and for us when I come to
round up this crowd!"

How Jack Barwood would have roared with laughter at him! But let us
tell the whole truth. Down in the depths of his own jovial heart of
hearts Jack would have been, secretly, just a wee little bit jealous.
For what thundering optimism was here!

"The cheek of him!" he would decidedly have exclaimed. "Here's Tom
foxing in a corner, with his hands freed when they're supposed to
be lashed together. That's, so far as I can see, his only point of
advantage. Against that single item he's a prisoner, locked in a
room, with a band of cut-throat villains eating their supper beside
him. And here he has the amazing cheek to think, and think seriously
too, of the time when he'll have captured the lot, to even sympathize
with a cousin who may possibly be the leader. Hoo!"

Indignation, amusement, concern for the evident idiocy of his chum
would be expressed in his retort had he been there to make one. But
he wasn't, more's the pity. And to our hero the amusing, idiotic
side of his thoughts, if so you care to term it, was a source of no
more than passing interest. He began to check certain matters over
on the tips of his fingers. He nodded his head knowingly, and then,
of a sudden, he looked up. For the door yonder had opened. Now it
banged to with a crash. A step was coming along the passage. A key
was thrust into the lock, and presently the man who was to supply him
with food, and, later, with writing implements and paper, was pushing
his way into his prison. In a moment he would stoop to cut those
lashings which now were not in existence. In a moment, in fact, the
cat would be out of the bag. Tom braced his muscles for a struggle.



CHAPTER XIX

Tom Thinks Furiously


The man who had entered Tom's prison, the one whom his irregulars had
captured outside Ciudad Rodrigo, and in whose clothes our hero had
made his venture into the fortress, pushed the door to with his toe,
and, stooping, deposited a wooden tray in the centre of the room, on
the identical spot so lately occupied by the rickety and creaking
chair of the fat rascal who had been so free with his promises and
his pistol.

"Food and drink," he said, as he stood upright. "Ah, I had forgotten
the comrade! He, too, perhaps, would care for something. Then I must
get the key. Eduardo has it. Yes, that is what I shall do. Then there
is the pen and ink and paper, and later----"

"The friend," smiled Tom, watching the fellow like a cat. "The little
friend, comrade, whom you will marry when you have made this fortune."

The fellow grinned; he liked the wit of the English staff officer. It
flattered his vanity to be chaffed about this little matter of which
he was inordinately proud. Yes, it pleased him distinctly--this
prisoner was quite an amiable fellow.

"Ho, ho!" he laughed. "Wait till you are one of us. But, remember,
fine feathers make fine birds. You will have no gaudy uniforms. In
matters such as this with us it is a case of the man alone. It is
personality that tells."

Tom would have laughed at his stupid vanity at another time. But
there he was, all strung up for the struggle which he knew to be
inevitable, waiting and waiting. And how can a man, or a youth for
the matter of that, conjure up an easy smile under such circumstances?

"Yes, it is always the man himself who makes the running," said this
fellow. "But I will take food to your comrade, and then for the rest."

He was wool-gathering, this spy. Even spies, we suppose, have their
amorous moments and their gentler passions. This man was so taken up
with the thought of the outing he was to have that he was actually
pulling the door open and leaving without a thought as to the
condition of his prisoner. Of what use food and drink when a man's
hands were supposed to be fast bound behind him?

The reader can imagine the temptation Tom felt to let him go without
a murmur; for then the struggle, inevitable no doubt, would be
deferred for a while. He would have a longer breathing space; he
would, perhaps, be better prepared in the course of a few minutes.

"Funking, eh?" he asked himself severely. "Wanting to put it off,
you brute. Hi!" he called. "Thanks for the food and all that is to
follow, but permit me to point out that I am unable to touch it.
After all, even were I a four-footed animal, I could hardly manage
the task with two of my limbs tied. No doubt the thought of this
friend drives such trivial matters out of your head."

A roar escaped the jailer. This was quite the best joke he had come
across in many a long day's march. How his comrades would cackle when
he told them; for of course he would do that. It would add zest to
their chaffing.

"Indeed it is a pretty compliment I am paying a certain person,
and so I shall tell her," he giggled. "To think that I who am so
careful should go about with my wits so flying. She will smile and be
pleased. Hola! Then this is a true sign of my feelings for the minx."

"Quite a decent fellow in some ways, though a traitor," thought Tom,
eyeing the fellow narrowly. "Makes one feel rather a sneak to upset
this meeting. But then, business comes first, eh? Yes, I'm sorry for
him, but it can't be helped."

He staggered to his feet as the man came towards him, still with
his hands behind his back. And then he lunged swiftly, catching the
jailer neatly between the eyes with a fist the knuckles of which were
now hard after months of strenuous campaigning. The man rose bodily
from the floor, his feet kicked spasmodically forward, and in a
moment the Spanish hero, the spy and traitor who with his comrades
made a living by selling the stolen secrets of those who had come to
deliver their country, was crashing upon the floor.

Tom bent over him, a stern look on his face. He was ready for more
violence if need be, though not eager. "Stunned, knocked him out
with the sort of blow a pugilist would give. That's satisfactory for
the moment. Now for the future. Sorry about that girl though. Must
tell Jack Barwood and see if he cannot console. Now for Alfonso; but
there's a bothering key wanted. Perhaps this one'll fit. Supposing it
don't?"

Up went his hand again. The dashing young staff officer, of whom Lord
Wellington already had such a high opinion, looked for the moment
just like a Spanish churl. For, recollect, he was still dressed as
muleteer, and muleteers wear clothing which compares but badly with
the smart uniform of an officer of the staff. Besides, he had been
somewhat tumbled about of late. But what did it matter? Even had
there been anyone to look on, it was too dark to discover details.
Not that Tom could not see. Those ruffians who had interviewed him
had taken a lamp to the room, and the man who lay sprawling now had
brought a candle, only it had gone sprawling too, and lay guttering
and almost out at that moment. Tom picked it up and looked about him.

"No use waiting; time's precious," he told himself. "I'll see what
can be done with Alfonso's door. Then we'll set things humming."

He took the key from the door of his own prison, and, snatching up
the candle, stealthily slipped along the passage. There was a door
ten feet down it, and the key slid into the lock. But it refused to
turn, causing Tom to groan with vexation. He closely inspected the
lock then, and stood considering matters. A roar of laughing and
loud voices from the farther room, in which the spies were supping,
distracted his attention, and in a moment he was back at his own
door. Ah! A streak of light burst its way into the passage. The door
was opening. Tom instantly slid into his own room, closed the door
gently, and locked it from within. Then, putting the candle in the
far corner, on the same wall as the door, he waited events. They
followed swiftly; for a minute later there came a thunderous blow
upon the door, and then a burst of laughter.

"Ho, there, within! We come to join a comrade at supper, and to bring
him better fare than he has been given--open."

It was the voice of the fat man, breathless as if after much effort,
a little incoherent, if the truth be told. The laughter was that of
men easily roused to merriment, who enjoy a feeble joke, or a saying
wanting in wit and point, more thoroughly and longer than it merits.
They had been supping, that was the explanation, and conspirators
such as these might well be expected to sup wisely, but too freely
perhaps. And here seemed to be an example.

"Open!" bellowed the fat man, shaking the door violently.

"Open!" roared his comrades, lurching against it. "Open and sup with
new comrades."

"And the key? Does a prisoner, even if he be about to become a new
comrade--does he have the key of his prison given into his care?"

The note of amusement which Tom managed to fling into his voice
caught the fancy of these ruffians. They laughed uproariously, so
that for a while not one could make his voice heard. And then one
suggested that they should beat the door in.

"Aye, beat it in!" gurgled the fat man. "See, I will throw myself
against it, and, pish! the thing will fall to the ground."

That put a summary end to the matter, for the fat individual was
unable to control his muscles with sufficient precision and dexterity
to bring about the attempted movement. He launched his ponderous
weight at the door, it is true, but his dive fell short by two feet
at least, and, stumbling, he rolled amongst his comrades, bringing
about a scene of confusion.

The place rocked with the laughter of men. More than one leaned
against the door, shaking it badly. Then there were groans, fat
groans, almost in a stifled voice, and coming from the one who seemed
to be the ringleader in this piece of mischief. There was more
movement and more groaning, then heavy steps, as if of men carrying
a burden. In fact the fat man had been placed _hors de combat_. His
own indiscretion and dash had brought about his downfall. A damaged
leg caused his overexcited spirits to evaporate into the smoky air of
the foul dwelling in which his comrades were supping, while the pain
drew a succession of the dreariest of groans from him.

"Done with their invitation for the time being," hoped Tom. "Ah,
there goes the door to with a bang! I'll have a look outside and see
what has happened."

Gently turning the key, he pulled the door ajar and listened. Not a
sound came from the passage, and when his head was thrust out there
was not even a glimmer of light to be seen in the direction of the
supper room. But there was noise enough. Laughter rose and fell,
and was punctuated frequently by the dismal groanings of the man
who had been hurt. In fact, it looked as if the gang had settled
down for a time, and as if our hero might prosecute his own affairs
without interference. He tiptoed along to Alfonso's room and shook
the door heavily. But there was no answer from within, not even when
he called in as loud a voice as he dared risk. Had he but known it,
his cousin lay on the floor over by the far window, still pinioned,
as obstinate as any mule, determined to hold no converse with the
rascals who had captured him. He was not wanting in spirit, this
Spanish cousin of Tom's. As a matter of plain fact, he too had made
many and many an effort to free his limbs. But he had not observed
a similar catch existing on his own window, and with which our hero
had managed to saw through his own bonds. That was, perhaps, an
excellent illustration of the difference existing between the two
young fellows. Alfonso was a gallant officer, and had proved himself
possessed of ample courage on many an occasion. He was not brilliant,
however, and wanted some of the dash displayed by his English cousin.
Perhaps that was the result of his nationality, of his upbringing,
of his general life and surroundings until the outbreak of this
Peninsula War. But then, had Tom's life and conditions been much
different? He had lived his seventeen years in that quaint old house
down by the Thames, with its fine mulberry tree spreading wide, leafy
branches in front. The peeping into a big office provides no great
excitement, nor the seeing there of certain grey-headed clerks who,
as was the case at the establishment of Septimus John Clifford & Son,
carried out their allotted tasks daily without a hair's variation.
There was his school, to be sure; contact there with many a comrade;
friendships made and lost and regained; struggles for supremacy in
such games as then were practised; and, on occasion, somewhat too
frequently as his masters stated flatly, there were contests outside,
such as that between Tom and the grocer's lad. That had been our
hero's life, quiet and regular enough, as one must admit. But the
result was that Tom had a dash and swiftness about him Alfonso would
never possess, while here was an illustration which pointed to his
quickness. Alfonso still lay bound by the thumbs and elbows: Tom was
free, in the enjoyment of active movement.

"Perhaps he's asleep," he thought, shaking the door again and calling
without receiving an answer. "Anyway, I daren't make more noise, and
there is nothing about with which I could hope to force the lock. It
begins to look as if I'll have to go to those rascals and hold the
lot of them up till they produce the key. How'd it do?"

His finger went pensively to his forehead, while he stood in the
passage thinking deeply. At the far end the noise in the supper
chamber had become even greater. There were shouts as well as
laughter now, and once a sudden stamping, as if one of the gang had
risen to his feet and was indulging in a _pas seul_, with which to
enliven his comrades.

"Let's get along to the farther end and see what's there. Ah, another
room! Locked? No, open. No key, though, and the place as dirty as the
others."

He lifted the guttering candle overhead and inspected his
surroundings. The room was empty, completely stripped of furniture.
As a matter of fact the house itself was an empty one which this
rascally gang had appropriated, taking full advantage of the times. A
raid on neighbouring houses at the moment of the French retreat and
the coming of the British had stocked certain of the rooms, while the
owner must have been absent, else there would have been enquiries.
Then, too, by staring out of the window, Tom made the discovery that
the dwelling was situated at the end of a narrow yard, there being
stabling on either hand. It blocked this far end, while opposite
there was a low, arched exit leading into one of the minor streets of
Madrid.

"Just the sort of crib for such fellows. No one likely to come into
the yard unless they had actual business here; and since these
troubles started I expect few have been able to keep horses. The
French cavalry, of whom there have been thousands swarming through
the city, will have snapped up every atom of forage, and made
horsekeeping an expensive and impossible thing for most inhabitants.
So it's the place of all others for such a gang. Perhaps it'll suit
me just as well too. Now I wonder."

Stretching his head out of the narrow window he looked thoughtfully
about him, and, gazing upward, took stock of the stars, for the
clear night sky was thickly sown with them. One of the advantages of
campaigning, and commanding an irregular corps undertaking frequent
detached duties, was that he had learned to read his direction by the
stars, and now a little careful study told him that he was facing
south, that the street into which the house looked and the yard
actually emptied ran east and west.

"While the bulk of the city's to the north," he told himself.
"That'll help once we get out of this hole."

It is to be remarked that he had already decided that escape was
not only possible but certain. And he had used the word "we". Tom,
in fact, never even dreamed of leaving Alfonso. Had he done so, he
could have dropped from that window and gone clear away. It would be
a squeeze to push his somewhat bulky figure through the frame; but it
could be done, and below, outside, lay freedom; within lay death. For
this gang of spies was not likely to spare a young fellow possessed
of some of their secrets, and able to bring soldiers to arrest them.
The fact that they had spoken so plainly was proof positive that they
considered the two prisoners had no chance of escape, while so little
were they in sympathy with the feelings of an Englishman that they,
for the most part, had taken it for granted that both Tom and Alfonso
would willingly sell any knowledge they happened to have for the sake
of security. And the very act of doing so would, of course, make them
part and parcel of the gang; for to return to the troops would be
impossible.

"No use thinking at all," he grumbled, satisfied with his look out of
the window. "Let's get to work. This room's empty, so I'll leave it.
Now for the passage again. Ah! Stairs leading downward; others going
up. Try those descending first of all."

There was a door at the bottom of the steps leading directly into
the big yard. The huge paving stones, littered with unswept rubbish,
seemed to call loudly to him, to invite him to come out; for across
their surfaces he could step to freedom. Behind, upstairs, lay
danger; but a friend, a cousin, lay there also. Clambering up again,
Tom was about to ascend to the floor above his prison, when shouts
came from the supper room and sent him darting back to his own. The
door hiding those villains swung back with a crash and revealed
a scene which, when he came to look more closely at it--for he
was now only venturing to peep through the partly opened door of
his prison--caused him to stare at the members of the gang, whose
acquaintance he had so recently made, with eyes which were distinctly
startled. What else could one expect with such people, the lowest of
the low, traitors to their country, men who made profit out of the
misfortunes of the nation, and who stooped even to do a mischief to
the very people who had come at such risk, and at such cost in blood
and money, to help the Spanish against the French? These ruffians had
been making merry without a doubt. Secure in their retreat--for the
house was so isolated and shut in that even their shouts and ribald
laughter were hardly likely to attract attention from outsiders--they
had been supping liberally, and the red wine of Spain had been
flowing. The view through the open door discovered three of the
wretches dancing hilariously with unsteady feet, while beyond them,
separated by the table, on which stood a smoky lamp, was the fat
individual who had been so free with his pistol. His ungainly cheeks
hung flabbily. His pig-like eyes were hardly visible, while his lips
were blown outward at every expiration. Nor had he ceased groaning.
Evidently he found the chair in which he had been placed little to
his liking, or he may have been more severely injured than Tom
thought. In any case his wrinkled forehead, his sallow cheeks, and
his anxious eyes showed that he was suffering.

But what cared the others? Not a jot. Those three danced right
merrily, more than once being on the eve of upsetting the injured
man. Comrades sprawled across the table, their heads buried in their
hands, evidently sunk in sleep, while the picture was completed in so
far as the contents of the room went, or so much of them as Tom could
see, by a couple of the fellows sprawled motionless on the floor.
Obviously it was not any of these who had caused the commotion. The
centre of the scene, in fact, was occupied by two men half in and
half out of the door, past whose figures Tom squinted to see the
interior. One still clung to the latch, reeling unsteadily, while the
other leaned against the post. It was clear that there had been an
altercation between them, and as a matter of fact they had risen to
go outside and fight the matter out. But Spanish tempers are quick
and fiery. Shouts of anger came from both, while the man clinging to
the door already had his stiletto drawn. Indeed Tom had hardly taken
in all these particulars when the two threw themselves at one another
like tigers, and, gripping wherever they could, fell to the ground,
and there rolled from side to side as they struggled. Gasps and cries
of hatred escaped them both, and then a shriek silenced every other
sound within the building. It even stirred Alfonso to movement. He
came to his door and beat his shoulders against it, for that shriek
sent a horrible chill through him.

"It may be Tom they're murdering," he told himself, with a gasp.

But Tom was merely an onlooker, a horrified one, to be sure. That
shriek told a tale there was no mistaking. Suddenly one of the men
seemed to become flabby. The hand which had gripped his opponent's
neck fell to the floor with a hollow bump. Then his head sank
backward. The victor rose with difficulty, stood looking down at
his victim, and, having wiped his stiletto on the tail of his coat,
staggered back into the supper room and banged the door behind him.
There was a hush about the building after that. Maybe those of the
conspirators still able to understand were as disturbed as Tom at the
occurrence. But we hardly think so. Quarrels were frequent enough;
bloodletting was a common occupation.

"Well, they're brutes, the whole lot of 'em, that's true," Tom
told himself; "and it seems to me that the majority are in such a
condition that they are hardly likely to discover what's happening.
I'll wait a little, and then just go tooth and nail for that door.
It would take any one of them five minutes to stir his drunken wits,
and by then the thing'll be open and Alfonso out. But that's not all
that I want. My orders were to discover the gang and apprehend them.
That's clear; so the job's not finished with Alfonso's release."

He went out into the passage boldly and slid along to the door of
the supper room. A feeble groan came to his ears. That was the fat
man--snores caused the air to vibrate. No doubt the rascals sprawling
on the table and beneath it were responsible. But of talking there
was none. As for the man on the floor, he was dead. Tom leaned over
him and listened; there was not so much as the whisper of a breath.
He ran his hands over the man's face, down his clothing, to his belt.
The sheath of his drawn stiletto was there, and a pistol also. There
was nothing more, nothing. Yes, there was something: Tom gripped it.
It was a key thrust into the belt. He tore it out as if his life
depended on his haste, and went racing down the passage. It fitted.
The lock of Alfonso's room turned. The door swung open widely.

"Come swiftly," whispered Tom, darting in and proceeding at once to
cut Alfonso's bonds with the blade of a knife he always carried.

"But--how have you done it? How long have you been free? Who helped
you?" gasped his cousin, firing off a string of questions in a deep
whisper. "Those brutes, where are they? I heard them fighting or
drinking."

"Hush! We'll talk the thing over later. Come to the window and look
out. Now, there is the courtyard at the bottom of which this house is
situated. When you reach the street, turn sharp left and run to the
camp. Bring men back with you. Bring any soldiers you can come upon.
It is hardly nine yet, and there will be plenty about. Also there is
a bright, harvest moon, and that makes matters easier. Surround this
house. Guard every outlet, and then we shall have the lot of these
fellows. Alfonso, this is the very gang we are after."

He took the still astonished Alfonso by the shoulders and pushed him
out of the room and down the stairs into the yard.

"But you, you, Tom? What happens? You stay? Why?"

"Go quickly; this is a great chance. Go at once."

Tom turned abruptly and entered the house again, while his cousin,
knowing him by this time, and having already learned in the course of
service under his command that this young English cousin of his had
a way, when thwarted, of giving the curtest orders, darted out into
the yard and went racing through it. The one remaining, the young man
upon whom the great Lord Wellington had already turned his attention,
crept up the stairs again to the passage. He stole softly to the door
of the supper room and then back to those stairs leading upward.
Ascending them, he reached another landing with a couple of doors
leading from it. The flickering candle he bore in his hand showed
the dirt and squalor of the place, and showed, moreover, something
strange about one of the doors. It was heavily barred outside, while
a padlock passed though an eyelet in the bar and made all secure.
There were voices coming from the inside. Did our hero recognize
those voices after listening for a while? Then why such extraordinary
excitement, the like of which he had not shown before, even in the
midst of strenuous adventure? He went red-hot from head to foot and
gazed desperately about him. What could have caused this sudden
nervousness? Could it be that one of the speakers must be José, the
rascally cousin who had already done him such an injury, or could it
be possible----?

Frantic with eagerness he backed against the wall of the passage and
then rushed at the door, putting all his strength and weight into
the blow. He kicked it desperately. Careless of the commotion he
raised, he kicked and kicked and kicked again, till, of a sudden,
the door flew open. That moment, too, was the signal for loud shouts
from the supper room. A swarm of rascals, roused from their stupor by
the noise, came swarming out, and, running down the passage, found
two empty prisons to greet them. The sound of breaking timber above
reached their ears, and at once they turned to the stairs and raced
up them.



CHAPTER XX

A Brilliant Capture


While Tom Clifford, commander of the composite force of Spanish and
Portuguese irregulars, staff officer, and as smart a young fellow as
served under Wellington's command, listens to the approach of those
ruffians who had been such a scourge to our army, and who had traded
upon the military plans and secrets of those who had come to aid
their country, let us for a few moments anticipate events and narrate
what followed the eventful conflict at Salamanca.

Portugal was long ago cleared of the invading French. Now the
enemy were sent flying into the heart of Spain, while Wellington
could cheerfully cut himself clear of Portugal, feeling sure that
the troops in rear would be sufficient to keep open his lines of
communication, always an important matter with a general invading a
country swarming with enemies. For then, if the worst came to the
worst, the retreat lay open.

We find him, then, promptly marching on Madrid, and have told how the
troops, with Tom Clifford's command, reached that city. The immediate
results of Salamanca and this march were far-reaching. King Joseph,
the usurper thrust upon the Spanish throne by Napoleon, fled the
city, ordering Soult and Suchet to come to his help. The former, then
at Cadiz, where Sir Rowland Hill opposed him, destroyed his heavy
cannon and marched to join Joseph, while Sir Rowland Hill at once
proceeded to attach his force to that of Wellington. The latter then
set out for Burgos, a most antique city, situated on the highroad to
Bayonne, the French retreating steadily before him, looting churches
and houses as they went. This movement of the invader towards his
own frontier did not declare that he had given up the contest. On
the contrary, General Souham, who had now taken over the command
of the French in Spain, or did so on 3 October, was making every
effort to collect a huge force to oppose us, and, although no serious
opposition was offered to our march to Burgos, the clouds were
gathering daily, and Wellington had reason to fear that, if he failed
to capture this stronghold, he would be left to face overwhelming
French odds or to retreat once more on his own base. And, as we
have taken the liberty of anticipating events, let us say that, in
spite of the utmost gallantry and the most dashing assaults, Burgos
resisted, and Wellington who was unprepared for assault, since he
had no adequate siege train with him, had to attack the defences.
After no fewer than five assaults, a number of sallies by the gallant
garrison, and thirty-three days investment, the siege was abandoned,
some 2000 of our men having fallen, while the French had also lost
heavily. Nor must we omit to mention the skill and undoubted valour
of Colonel du Breton and his men, who here opposed us.

Souham had now collected some 70,000 of all arms, and, therefore,
retreat was urgent. That retreat became, indeed, almost a facsimile
of the famous retreat of Sir John Moore, though it did not continue
so long; for, in spite of every precaution, in spite of wrapping
cannon wheels with straw to deaden the sound, the garrison of Burgos
got wind of the beginning of the movement. Almost at once French
columns were in pursuit, and from that day there were constant
conflicts between our rearguard and the enemy. Passing by way of the
River Tormes, on his route for the frontier of Portugal, Wellington
crossed that river, leaving a thin brigade to hold the bridge at
Alba--and a gallant brigade it proved. Pelted with cannon shot,
unable to reply save with musketry, this brigade clung to the spot,
arresting the pursuit of the enemy till their position was turned by
French cavalry crossing the river elsewhere. Then came the passage
of the Huebra, accompanied by constant fighting. But the skilful
Wellington drew off his troops, though many a poor fellow was left
dead or wounded, until at length the frontier of Portugal was
reached, and with it winter quarters. Some 9000 men had been lost on
the way, while baggage had for the most part fallen into the hands of
the enemy.

But let us realize that this was no defeat. There were some 90,000
Frenchmen now swarming about our retreating column, for every
available soldier had been brought up by Souham, who determined once
and for all to check the designs of the British. And yet he failed.
Wellington had reached security with the bulk of his forces. Thus
ended the campaign for the year 1812, only to be resumed again in the
spring of 1813, when our armies, still beneath the same conquering
hand, were to advance north again, right up to the French frontier,
and finally to enter France. Let us also contrast at this point the
movements of Wellington's troops with those of Napoleon's men in
other fields of conquest. Wellington began that memorable retreat
from Burgos on the night of 21 October, 1812, and saw its completion
within a few days of the crossing of the Huebra on 18 November. At
the very same time Napoleon was also in retreat, that famous and
fearful retrograde movement which laid the foundation of his final
downfall. Reaching Moscow with his hosts on 14 September, he found
the city deserted by its 250,000 inhabitants. His triumphal entry was
disturbed by the outbreak of fire, and finally he was driven forth
to face an Arctic Russian winter by the destruction of the city. He
set his face homeward on 19 October. And later we find him hastening
from a field that no longer attracted his attention, just as he had
hastened out of Spain soon after the coming of the British. Entering
Russia full of confidence, and with nearly a half-million of men, he
bade farewell to those of his generals who still lived on 5 December,
leaving behind him a shattered remnant, devoid of discipline,
half-frozen and more than half-starved, a rabble still to suffer
frightfully at the hands of the dashing Cossacks. Think of the untold
misery. Think of the very many thousands of men, all in the flower of
manhood, who perished in this Russian campaign. Then recollect that
the overpowering ambition of this "Little Corporal," this commoner,
this distinguished artillery officer, was chiefly responsible. France
needed no larger territory. Honour and glory could have been won for
her emperor and her people by this lost energy, this sad loss of
young vigour, applied to her own internal affairs, to commerce and
other matters. Instead, France wept at the loss of its young manhood
and groaned beneath the burden of excessive war taxation, while the
years which followed were to see the downfall of the empire which
was then being created, the loss of all these provinces won by the
sword at the price of the misery and death of thousands and thousands
of innocent and would-be peaceful people. Napoleon may have been
great--he was, admittedly, a military genius and a man of unsurpassed
courage and ambition--but the thousands who went to their doom at his
bidding, or who sent thousands of their fellows to their end because
of his actions, bear a terrible testimony against him. His deathbed
amidst those peaceful surroundings at St. Helena, high up over the
smiling sea, was a glaring contrast to the deathbed of many and many
a poor fellow who followed or opposed his fortunes.

But let us turn from a subject such as this to the fortunes of as
bright a lad as ever set foot on the Peninsula. We left Tom acting
in a manner almost inexplicable. See him now, then, with that door
shattered and burst wide open, and himself returned to the head of
the stairs up which the rascals from below were rushing. And look at
the two who were with him. One, a stout jovial man of medium height,
and possessed of ruddy features which showed resolution and energy,
stood at his side armed with a length of splintered woodwork. A
second, taller perhaps, thin and cadaverous, and of sallow Spanish
complexion, stood in rear gripping our hero's stiletto. Both were
more or less in rags, and grimed with long confinement in a noisome
prison. But in each case fearless eyes looked out through flashing
glasses. And down below, coming upward helter-skelter, were a dozen
rascals, one bearing a lantern, elbowing one another, firing their
weapons haphazard, shouting at the three above them.

"Silence!" Tom commanded at the pitch of his voice. "Silence for a
moment. Now, lay down your arms and go back to your room. You are
surrounded. You are prisoners. The man who dares to fire another
weapon will be taken outside and shot instantly."

Gaping faces looked up at him, and then into the eyes of their
fellows. Two men at the bottom of the stairs turned to run. And then
one of the leaders called upon them not to be cowards.

"Surrounded!" he laughed. "He is fooling the lot of us. Hear him call
upon us to surrender when we are on the point of chopping him to
pieces. Up we go. In a trice we will have the lot of them strung by
the necks from the windows."

His pistol belched a charge of flame and shot in Tom's direction,
and, missing our hero's head by a narrow margin, swept above the
spectacles of his gallant father--for it was Septimus whom he had
unearthed from the room behind him, and his uncle Juan also--causing
that sedate, business gentleman to duck most violently. It completed
its work by crashing into the ceiling and bringing down a yard of
material which almost blinded Don Juan as it smashed into pieces.
As for Tom, he leaned forward, took steady aim, and sent the rascal
tumbling backward with a bullet through his body. He was after him,
too, in an instant, beating at those below with the butt of his
pistol, while Septimus ably backed up the attack, laying about him
vigorously with his piece of splintered boarding. Men dived for their
legs, hoping to bring them down in that way, but were met with blows
which sent them heeling downward. Shots were fired by the ruffians,
and were answered by the howls of the wretches hit by accident. Then
a shout of consternation set the whole lot retreating.

What was that? Tom stretched his ears to their longest and listened.
Septimus produced a very red and somewhat soiled silk handkerchief
and slowly mopped his streaming forehead. Juan took off his glasses,
wiped them thoughtfully, and then gave vent to the expression: "Well,
I never!"

"Soldiers! British!" shouted Septimus, beginning to dance from one
toe to the other, and presenting a somewhat ludicrous appearance.
"Tom, I tell you those are British soldiers!"

"No--Portuguese and Spanish. Listen, that's my adjutant, Ensign John
Barwood."

Up through the windows of the house came the curt commands of
an officer, commands issued in a language neither Spanish nor
Portuguese, but a species of patois made more hideous by the obvious
English accent of the officer.

"Recover arms! Ground arms! Split up by sections. Shoot any man who
comes from the house and refuses to surrender. Andrews and Howeley
take charge each of a section. Ensign Alfonso is at the rear and
guards the place in that quarter."

"Hooray!" bellowed Tom, racing down the stairs and to the window of
his late prison. "Jack, ahoy! Pass a few files into the house for our
protection. I've got the two we've been searching for. Pass the news
to Alfonso. His father's here, safe and sound. And mind you, don't
let one of those beggars escape. Seize or shoot them all. Search
their clothing and send a couple of men at once to help me to search
for papers."

The minutes which passed after that were somewhat strenuous. Every
exit from the house was guarded, and when a man dropped from one of
the windows, and refused to halt at the command of one of Jack's
parties, there came the snap of a musket, followed by a fusillade,
for the first shot had missed the mark. A piercing shriek echoed
through the yard, and when Tom craned his neck out of the window
there was one of the rascals stretched still and stark on his face.

By now the irregulars were pouring into the house, their bayonets
fixed in readiness for trouble. They found the bulk of the
conspirators crouching in their supper room amid the litter of
bottles and glasses, while in their centre, looking still more woeful
and downcast, was the fat man who had been injured. He was carried
below after being searched, while the rest were mustered together,
thoroughly searched, and then marched into the yard, where they were
put under a guard. Then began a complete and thorough investigation
of the premises. Documents and papers were dragged from hiding
places, and as the night wore on towards early morning Tom was able,
with the help of his friends, to unravel the whole mystery.

"The same handwriting," he repeated on many an occasion, turning over
some new document. "Plans of Badajoz as regarrisoned and defended by
the British. Ditto of Ciudad Rodrigo, showing that these men have had
agents in both places. Details here of Wellington's forces, with the
exact number of guns, their calibre, &c."

"And here the same of the French," sang out Alfonso, now an
interested spectator. "Double-dealing individuals, evidently."

"I'll eat my hat if that writing isn't the same as that found in the
house where your father and uncle were living," suddenly interrupted
Jack.

"Right--I've seen that all along. It goes to prove that the
ringleader all through who managed this gang also abducted those two.
Who was he?"

"That is a question beyond me," declared Septimus, leaning over his
son's shoulder. "We never saw a leader. He was never referred to in
our presence. We were suddenly set upon and bound and gagged. That
same night we began the journey to Badajoz. Then came the siege, the
assault, and our flight; that is to say, we were hustled away from
the fortress. And here you are, Tom. 'Pon my word, how you do turn
up!"

"Like the usual bad penny," grinned Jack, whereat Tom made a slash at
him with his own sword, which the young adjutant had placed upon the
rickety table.

"But," he said, "how does it happen that you fellows yourselves
turned up just in the nick of time? Things were getting decidedly
warm for us at the top of those stairs."

"Warm!--Boiling!" gasped Septimus, mopping his forehead at the
thought, while Don Juan took off his spectacles and rubbed them.

"Beg pardon, sir, but there's officers ridden into the square,"
reported Andrews in his stentorian tones, thrusting a head into the
room. "They've called for the officer commanding."

"That's you," declared Tom, pointing at Jack. "I'm still a muleteer;
haven't rejoined yet."

But the generous Jack wouldn't have that at all. He insisted on Tom's
obeying the order.

"This special job's ended," he said, "You've bagged that crowd, and
mighty pleased Wellington'll be at the news. As for our arrival, why,
your men acting as muleteers got to hear something after you had gone
and sent along to me. I brought half a company into the city at once.
Alfonso tumbled upon us almost as we were passing the yard, and--here
we are, all aliv--o."

It was a strange coincidence that Wellington should be the one on
this occasion to turn up unexpectedly also, but at a moment which
could only be called opportune. He and his staff had attended a ball
given in honour of the arrival of the British, and there he was in
the yard when Tom and his friends descended, tall and austere, his
slim figure standing out in the moonlight.

"You command this party!" he exclaimed in amazement, as a seeming
muleteer drew himself to attention a few paces away and saluted.
"You!"

"Yes, sir."

Ah! There was something familiar about the face and the figure. The
voice reminded the general of a young officer he had often had in
his thoughts.

"Name?" he asked curtly.

"Lieutenant Tom Clifford, sir, in disguise. I have to report that the
mission on which you sent me has been successfully carried out. With
the help of my comrades I have captured or killed every member of a
gang dealing in military secrets. There is abundance of documentary
evidence to convict them."

"Ah, that is news! And their leader?"

"Over there, sir," explained Jack, who stood at attention beside our
hero.

The whole party crossed the yard to the far corner, where lay the
body of the man who had attempted to escape, and who had been shot
down in the act. A torch was produced, and the light enabled them to
see the features.

"The prisoners have admitted that he was their leader," said Jack.

It was José. Tom turned away with a feeling of sickness. After all,
it was not pleasant to think that a cousin could have been such a
rascal. There, in fact, was the end of all his scheming, all his
meanness and jealousy.

"You will report to-morrow at headquarters, Mr. Clifford. I offer you
and your officers and men the heartiest thanks--good morning!"

Wellington was gone. Tom watched the gilt of his epaulettes shining
as he went through the archway; then he turned. Jack was standing
stiffly at attention behind him. Septimus was rushing forward with
outstretched hand.

"Congratulations, sir," gasped the ensign.

"To both of you," cried Septimus. "The chief of the staff gave me the
news. Tom, you've been gazetted captain for that work at Salamanca,
while Jack also gets a step, and Alfonso a mention. Now let's get to
supper, or breakfast--which is it?"

There is little more to tell of our friends. In the year which
followed, that of 1813, they took the field again with Wellington,
having meanwhile passed safely through the retreat from Burgos.
Their corps saw service in the complicated battle of Vittoria, where
the British were successful. Thence they helped at the capture of
San Sebastian, while in October they actually marched into France,
having driven the French from Spain altogether. The battle of Nivelle
was then fought, Tom's men taking their part. The Nive was crossed
after desperate skirmishing, and so the advance of the British force
continued. Meanwhile, Napoleon's Russian disaster had set upon him a
flood of enemies, all pressing for vengeance. To describe all that
happened would need many a chapter; but in the end the power of
Napoleon was shattered. He himself abdicated the throne of France,
and was exiled to the island of Elba. Thence he escaped, and gathered
the flower and manhood of France once more about him. But it was
his fate to meet Wellington yet again. On the field of Waterloo
that great general, with the help of the Germans, broke his army
to pieces. A fugitive, Napoleon handed himself into the care of the
British, and thenceforward was exiled in St. Helena, where, amid the
cacti and the ferns, he died peacefully in the truckle bed which had
followed him on his campaigns.

For Jack and Tom we have something more to say. The former was
a captain at the end of the Peninsula War; Tom a colonel, the
youngest in the army. Minus one arm, he looked, if anything, rather
more fetching in his uniform than formerly, for he served on the
commander-in-chief's staff at home till he retired. Then Jack went
also. Cast your eyes back at the house of Septimus John Clifford &
Son. It's not so very long ago that the old head of the firm could
be seen asleep beneath the shade of that mulberry tree. He was full
of years and kindness. A white-haired clerk sat often beside him,
a relic of the faithful lot who were there when Tom was a boy. And
there were children about, Tom's, for he had left the service and
married. Jack Barwood had married Marguerite, and he and his old
friend met daily at the office, for they were partners, while Alfonso
managed in Oporto.

Thus our tale comes to an end. We take off our hats to Tom and his
fellows. They helped to break down the menace which threatened
England.


PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN

_At the Villafield Press, Glasgow, Scotland_


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Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious typographical errors were repaired, but stylistic and valid
archaic spellings were retained.

All illustrations, except for frontispiece, were relocated to the
text describing their action.

Format coding includes =bold= and _italic_.





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